Cox, Sony Hit a High-Def Home Run

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A partnership with Sony Corp. and baseball’s San Diego Padres designed to drive HDTV penetration has been a home run for Cox Communications Inc.’s San Diego system.

Executives with Cox Cable San Diego say the HDTV take rate has increased 40% since April 1, when local network Channel 4 San Diego began its high-definition telecasts of Padres Major League Baseball games. Over the same period, Cox San Diego executives said, the HD take has grown an average of 25% at Cox’s other systems.

ROAD GAMES, TOO

By the end of the regular baseball season, the Cox channel will have telecast 110 Padres games, including all home games and away games from the parks of other teams in the National League’s West Division: Phoenix, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

“We made a capital investment in the truck, so the directive from corporate was: 'Let’s see how much we can do,’ ” said Dan Novak, Channel 4 San Diego’s vice president and general manager.

In making their HD play, Cox officials wanted to capitalize on converging factors: the Padres were about to open a brand new home, Petco Park; and through a series of trades and acquisitions, the club had the potential for its best finish in years. Indeed, the Padres remain in the hunt for both the National League wild-card playoff berth and the league’s West division title.

Before the season opener, Cox negotiated with the team to place signage and monitors in the new park. Three hundred of the 450 TV screens in Petco Park’s public areas are Cox HD-powered.

The cable company is getting a powerful return from the partnership, said Novak. Projections put Petco Park’s first year gate at 3 million fans, up from 2.1 million in past years. Also available to Time Warner Cable, Adelphia Communications Corp. and small, independent operators, Channel 4 reaches 900,000 of the 1.1 million households in the overall San Diego DMA, and has averaged 150,000 households per contest.

During each game telecast, Cox advertises all of its available products.

TEAMING WITH SONY

In Petco Park, Sony is the preferred vendor of the stadium screens. Cox has also bought 32 sets that it has given away, with six months free HD service, to subscribers who enter a sweepstakes at the Channel 4 Web site (www.4sd.com).

Cox and Sony also teamed up to place HD sets in a number of the most popular bars and restaurants around the new park in the Gaslamp District of the city. These “high-def hot spots” have been popular with the restaurateurs as a differentiator from their competition. And Sony and Cox get another means to get people to sample the product, Novak said.

In addition to Channel 4, Cox’s digital subscribers (who pay $5 more for the HD-capable box) receive ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, Home Box Office, Showtime, INHD 1 and INHD2. Fox’s HD feed was added last month. Discovery HD Theater is available for an additional $5.95 per month.

Cox executives said their local channel provides the most extensive HD offering in the country. But other local and regional networks are stepping up their production efforts.

For example, New England Sports Network announced Sept. 15 that it would televise the remaining Boston Red Sox schedule in HD, and would show 36 Boston Bruins hockey games — a plan that figures to be iced by the National Hockey League’s current player lockout.

50 MORE HD EVENTS

Cox, too, continues to expand its programming in San Diego. Another 50 HD events are planned for this year, including the Miramar Air Show at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar; the Holiday Bowl parade; and basketball contests from San Diego State University and the University of California at San Diego.

Novak said executives are also strategizing about next baseball season. One likelihood: point-of-sale locations, staffed by Cox and Sony, in Petco Park in 2005.

Such a plan was discussed this season, but nixed for fear of creating clog points in the heavy crowds expected for the stadium’s rookie season. Two locations have already been determined for future demonstration stations, and Cox and Sony are developing ballpark-related offers.

For instance, an attendee, armed with a Padres ticket stub and literature from the demonstration stand, could receive a discount on a Sony TV at a participating retailer, plus six free months of HDTV service from Cox. No decisions have been made on the specific offer, though.

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