Cox Brings High-Def to Vegas

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Cox Communications Inc. early this month launched high-definition television in Las Vegas, its second HD market.

The Las Vegas deployment is the first in which Cox has deployed an integrated HD digital set-top box — Scientific-Atlanta Inc.'s 3100-HD — on a commercial basis.

The MSO has already signed on 500 customers for its HD service, Cox Las Vegas vice president Steve Schorr said, and that's before any formal marketing effort.

"We've been really surprised at the number of consumers who have come forth," Schorr said. "It shows that consumers wanted this product."

Cox digital-cable customers in Las Vegas who lease the integrated HD receivers for $10.15 per month can access up to 7 HD channels. They include local digital broadcast feeds from CBS and PBS affiliates; two HD feeds of Home Box Office; two HD feeds from Showtime Networks Inc.; and Discovery High Definition Theater.

Discovery HD carries a monthly subscription fee of $5. HD feeds from HBO and Showtime are included in the premium services' respective monthly multiplex packages.

OMAHA FIRST

The MSO had previously launched HDTV in Omaha, Neb., using sidecars from Motorola Inc.

Las Vegas was chosen as the MSO's second HD market based in part on technical issues, manager of video product development Lisa Pickelsimer said. In Las Vegas, Cox was able to test HD signals from a variety of sources, including over-the-air TV stations, fiber and satellite.

"We went to the company and said we want this first," Schorr said. "We want to be the technology leader. We stood up and raised our hands."

Cox expects to receive its first integrated HD receivers from Motorola sometime this year, but it could be early 2003 before the MSO is ready to deploy them commercially, Pickelsimer said. That's because it must first test the new integrated programming guide on the Motorola set-tops.

S-A includes such software in its digital boxes.

Cox is working to build relationships with local retailers to promote HDTV, Pickelsimer said. It expects to step up advertising once those partnerships are in place.

In the meantime, Cox is learning more about the operational complexities of launching HD in a new market.

"Since this is a new service, we need to understand how long, on average, it takes us to install this in customers' homes," Pickelsimer said.

Since the first HDTV subscribers are often early adopters of other technology products, she noted, their home electronics set-ups tend to be quite extensive. In some cases, a homeowner's projection television set is placed so far away from the electronics closet that the standard cables aren't long enough to reach.

"This is a technology-driven community," Schorr said. "People do a lot to make sure their homes are an important part of their lives."

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