For Cox, DVR's Off to the Races


Cox Communications Inc. has evidently recorded solid take rates for its digital video recorder option in Gainesville, Fla., and will soon offer the product to its Fairfax County, Va., customers.

Cox launched DVR functionality to its 96,000 customers in Gainesville on Feb. 5, and response to the $9.95 per month feature has exceeded Cox's expectations by 20 percent, according to MSO officials, who would not specify how many subscribers have the product.

What subscribers in Gainesville can enjoy now will be available to about 280,000 Cox households in and near Fairfax County, beginning April 1, according to director of video product development Lisa Pickelsimer. Additional DVR deployments are slated for later in 2003, she said.

The same digital set-top and marketing campaign in Gainesville — Scientific-Atlanta's Explorer 8000 and a multistage promotional campaign that includes cross-channel and radio spots — will be used in Fairfax.

As for what's transpired in Gainesville so far, "we are already exceeding what our competition [direct-broadcast satellite providers and standalone vendors] are doing there," said marketing director of video services Kevin Hill. "You have to take that with a grain of salt, especially when this is our first system doing this."

The features are similar in some ways to the capabilities of DVR-infused digital set-top boxes from direct-broadcast satellite providers, or standalone units from TiVo Inc. and ReplayTV, yet distinct in others.

Lots of features

For a fee of $9.95 per month — levied on top of their digital-cable fee — subscribers in Gainesville can pause or rewind live programming without missing the action, use a picture-in-picture feature to watch two programs simultaneously, record shows for later viewing and watch one taped show while recording two live programs on different channels. The Explorer 8000 has hard-drive capacity for up to 50 hours of programming.

While the watch-one-show, record-two-others option separates Cox's product from other DVRs, Hill said the MSO faced two marketing challenges. It had to create initial awareness about DVRs, then educate customers about capabilities.

"The majority of people do not know what they are, let alone they're available," he said. "Once people know what they are, you've got to educate them in a giant way about the features."

What that in mind, Cox crafted its marketing push with a "create your own primetime, any time" theme and a direct connection to digital service.

"It's a product that enhances what we already offer, and makes it more convenient for the user to watch what they want to watch on their terms," Pickelsimer said.

Direct mail and cross-channel messages launched the Gainesville effort last month. In the spot, produced by agency W.B. Doner, a TV comes alive and apprises a viewer about DVRs. The spot is running across the basic-cable networks in order to hit every demographic group.

Direct mail supplementing the spot was sent to digital customers who are heavy users of premium services.

"We targeted them because they have a big appetite for as much TV as they can possibly get," Hill said.

Radio and retail

A radio campaign was scheduled to begin late last week in the Gainesville region, covering a number of music and information-oriented stations. This week or next, the final cog in Cox's DVR marketing plan will come into play: Point-of-purchase displays at the system's two walk-in payment centers.

The DVR service and its attendant marketing is an expensive proposition, Pickelsimer acknowledged.

"But we're out there because we see this having a positive impact on digital churn rates and customer-satisfaction levels," she said.

Time Warner Cable is also deploying DVR in some of its markets, using Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000 boxes. Other cable operators may stage their own rollouts later this year.