Cox Rethinks Local Content

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Now that it has command of its own cable-modem service, Cox Communications Inc. is looking to hit the refresh button on its Web-content strategy.

Details have yet to be finalized, but the Atlanta-based MSO is looking at changes to its content direction for its High Speed Internet (HSI) service, according to Seth Hogan, director of business development in Cox's strategy and development group.

When it took over from Excite@Home, Cox signed a service-bureau contract with fellow Cox Enterprises Inc. subsidiary Cox Interactive Media, which would produce and maintain localized start pages for each of its high-speed-data markets.

So far, the Web design and advertising subsidiary has developed 26 such sites.

But late this spring Cox Enterprises Inc. said it would reorganize Cox Interactive Media, potentially folding it into Cox Communications Inc. or one of its other media holdings.

While CIM is still an independent subsidiary for now, Cox is re-examining the overall content picture — ranging from what content is presented to which audience it targets, according to Seth Hogan, director of business development for Cox's strategy and development group.

For example, up to now, the larger city sites, such as San Diego's SDInsider.com and the smaller-market Simply Local-branded portals, have been the start pages for HSI customers. But they also are aimed at the general Internet populace.

"While those sites are still open, they now are clearly of even greater importance to our HSI subscribers, and we want to make sure that those sites are providing value with the HSI subscriber in mind, or as the primary driver of the site," Hogan said. "Even though we may keep it open to the general pubic going forward, you can imagine that you would have a different site if you are thinking about what your HSI subs want vis-à-vis what an average user in a metropolitan area might want."

That might include adding elements such as e-mail notification, to show HSI customers if they have unread electronic-mail messages waiting in their inboxes.

As for the possibility Cox would maintain one site for the Internet and one for HSI users only, Hogan said the MSO wouldn't rule it out but "we'd have to think about that pretty carefully."

Playing into that decision is the fact Cox still wants to keep a contact point for prospective cable-modem customers.

"It's in our best interest to make sure dial-up and other users that are coming to our site that are not HSI customers, that they have a look into what becoming an HSI customer can provide," Hogan said. "It's a great promotion and vehicle to drive new subscribers."

START PAGE FACTOR

Cox is also examining how many HSI customers are keeping the local pages as their start pages. Although he would not go into how many Cox users did so versus how many outside users tapped the portals, Hogan said "we've been generally pleased with the number of people who are using our pages."

Not surprisingly, economics is also a question, although Hogan is quick to point out content changes are more of an opportunity for improving the service rather than saving money.

"But we definitely have to monitor the cost side, because these sites are not without cost, and that has to come from somewhere," he said. "So we are trying to do it as efficiently as we can."

While the content itself may be of secondary value to customers, compared to the price and service, Hogan said broadband customers' needs will not be static as the market evolves. The trick is to find the sweet spot between the value of content and how much it costs to provide it.

"We clearly think that a base level of content, including localized content, is important as a broadband ISP, and we think that there is some option value to putting a platform in place that lets you extend that as the marketplace dictates," he said. "But we have no intention of getting too far ahead of that curve because we've seen too many other people get burned by that."

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