Cox, Sony Break New HD Ground in S.D.

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Cox Communications, Sony Corp. and the San Diego Padres are joining together for an unusual multi-player HDTV initiative for the coming baseball season that will establish a new high-water mark for the marketing the format.

To start, Cox will broadcast 104 Padres games in HDTV, along with pre- and post-game coverage on its outlet, Channel 4.

One-third of the 800 TV sets in the Padres’ new stadium, Petco Park, will be HDTV sets supplied by Sony Corp.

Those televisions will be spread around the ballpark’s concourses and suites.

“Everywhere you turn, you’ll see TV sets,” said Sony Corp. of America senior vice president, digital platform Greg Gudorf. “Every consumer will see the park, then see it on an HD set. Especially in sports, once people see HD, they understand it.”

Plans also call for Cox to provide two live HDTV demonstration areas at the ballpark, manned by Cox and Sony employees, to showcase the benefits of HD and let consumers know how they can get the service.

And during perhaps as many as 25 home games this season, Cox and Sony will give a fan an HDTV set.

The MSO is talking to bars and restaurants in the Gaslamp district, where the new ballpark is located, converting their Cox accounts to HDTV and installing high-definition monitors at those locations.

Cox and Sony also are ironing out details on a market-wide retail promotion.

The confluence of the new ballpark, the industry’s HDTV launch and Cox’s local presence have all fueled this convergence.

“We view HDTV as a real strategic compelling play for us,” said Cox vice president of programming and communications Dan Novak.

“We’re thrilled to death to have a pretty comprehensive deal with Sony and the Padres,” Novak said.

The Sony/Padres tie-in ups Cox’s HD ante. The San Diego system has launched HD offering 10 channels, including the local ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS affiliates, ESPN, Home Box Office and Showtime.

There is no extra fee for that level of HD service, and the set-top fee is $3 higher than charges for a standard digital set-top. Discovery HD Theater also is available for $5.95 per month.

Novak estimates Cox and Time Warner Cable presently serve more than 25,000 HD subscribers in the San Diego market.

DBS, of course, is not offering local HD at present. “That’s really the differentiation and that’s the driver for Channel 4,” Novak said.

More than 100 Padres games will be offered in HDTV — all home games, plus contests in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Phoenix, where Cox can roll its mobile HD production truck.

Cox will also carry another 150 to 175 live events over the next year, including college sports, hockey, soccer and local events like the Miramar air show, the Holiday Bowl parade and a Salute to Teachers.

Cox owned a TV production truck in Phoenix, which was used for producing games involving the NBA’s Phoenix Suns.

After the Phoenix system’s TV deal with the Suns ended, Novak said, “it became clear we had a much bigger need.

The truck was fully digital to begin with, so I took over the truck.

“We replaced all the cameras and most of the major components with HD equipment. The switcher, tape room and routers all had to be replaced. We have seven HD cameras for live sporting events.”

Cox is shooting HD in 1080i format.

Cox has been telecasting Padres games for years, and with the arrival of the new ballpark and HDTV, the MSO commenced discussions with Sony. Eventually, the project encompassed ad sales, marketing and retail components.

To start, Sony is buying an advertising package with Cox, both on traditional channels and within Padres telecasts, Novak said.

“Sony is by far the leader in HD from a hardware standpoint, and they have a significant investment in the ballpark,” Novak said.

“It’s the first HD ballpark in professional sports,” he added. (Cox also is the official video, voice and Internet supplier for the stadium, including the Padres’ front office.)

In the Gaslamp district, Cox initially went to 15 establishments — mostly Cox customers, but only one with HD service — to sell them an HD deal. Cox closed all 15 accounts in a matter of days, Novak said.

“We’ll have signage and tent cards and points-of-sale in as many bars and restaurants as possible,” Novak said.

As for the in-game HD set giveaway, it’s likely that consumers will be able to register to win an HD set at various locations around San Diego.

Cox will choose the winners and provide them with tickets to a Padres game in advance.

During the game, the winning fan will be showcased in a live presentation of their HDTV-set prize.

Novak said the third-party retail piece is being worked out with Sony.

Cox already sells high-speed Internet access and other services through various Best Buy, Circuit City and Gateway stores, as well as smaller retail boutiques. HD will be added to that mix in some fashion.

“We have a desire to educate and explain HD to as wide a possible audience as possible,” Gudorf said. “It’s a perfect combination. We’re going to find lots of ways to work with that combination.”

In the past, much of Sony’s effort has focused on national promotions, Gudorf said.

“Here’s a case with a very local, regional market and it will prove to be an effective way to get a message out,” he said.

“We will be able to template this in other top markets,” he said