While many cable systems are just launching HDTV, the Cox Cable system in Las Vegas is pushing the envelope on HDTV deployment.
The system has one of the more advanced retail distribution and marketing schemes, among cable MSOs, and also is setting some trends in the area of pricing.
"We've had incredible success with the product," said Lisa Eskina, retail sales supervisor.
The system launched HDTV in July 2002 to its 400,000 basic cable subscribers using Scientific-Atlanta Inc. HDTV set-tops, starting with the Explorer 3200, and its successor 3250 model.
The system carries the CBS, PBS and ABC affiliates, said Bret Spears, retail account executive at Cox, plus ESPN, Discovery and two feeds each of HBO and Showtime.
Cox rents the HD set-top for $9.95 per month, which includes the broadcast affiliates. Any HBO and Showtime subscriber receives the HD feeds of those channels for free, as long as they have an HD set-top. Discovery and ESPN are each priced at $5 per month. The two combined cost $6.99 a month. Spear, who wouldn't reveal subscriber numbers, said: "These numbers seem to work for customers."
Cox launched HDTV using the typical cable avenues, including cross-channel. But a key focus was to get into retail from the get-go.
The system started working with a number major partners — Circuit City, Best Buy, CompUSA and Gateway — in more than 40 locations. The first step, Eskina said, was to try to get Cox Cable service to those locations. "We try to do a live feed when we can, and train the people in the stores," she said.
Eskina said some stores have specialists in television, while in other stores, employees cover all the product lines. "We want to make sure they are as knowledgeable about our product as possible."
"The retail strategy is very popular and generates a lot of interest around HD," Eskina said. It helps Cox because of the value of that raised interest and the value of positioning in a high traffic retail area, she said.
Spear said educating retailer personnel is an ongoing process. "We're in stores every week," Spear said. "We deal with their questions, we're accessible to them and train new people."
"The DBS provider, they may be in there once a month," Spear added. "With programmers, ESPN, they are great about having upcoming events, and developing brochures we can include with our retailers."
Cox and Circuit City set up a remote radio broadcast at a store in January, built around an NFL game. Several hundred people watched an NFL game in HDTV at two store locations.
Cox also has run an instant-install HD campaign, where consumers could call for HD services and get installed in a three-hour period.
Over the summer, Cox did a promotion with Pioneer Electronics where consumers received Cox's HD service for three months and a mail-in rebate for a Pioneer TV purchase, for a total value of $600 on TV sets that were priced above $2,500. "We promoted that hard and had signage in stores" at 11 Pioneer locations, Spear said.
Cox also is working with ESPN and Circuit City on a fall event where HDTV set buyers would get rewarded with ESPN gifts, including an NFL ESPN Sidelines event and tickets to a Raiders game. HDTV set buyers would receive tickets to a special party where the NFL tickets would be given away.
Cox is stepping out beyond retail locations, trying to get Cox HD service showcased in the model homes builders establish for new developments. "We're really trying to get out their with our local builders and get into their design center," Eskina said. The idea is to promote Cox's video, voice and data services in the showrooms of model homes.
Between those design centers, retail outlets and Cox-owned displays (including an interactive media wall in Cox payment centers), there are probably several hundred public locations where Cox demonstrates HDTV services in Las Vegas.