Cox Turns to Sister For Local Content


Cox Communications Inc., which gained full control of its high-speed data customers last month, has turned to sibling Cox Interactive Media for content to feed them.

CIMedia launched broadband local start pages in 20 Cox cable-modem markets Dec. 27, with plans to add another 15 soon. That will cover the MSO's high-speed footprint.

During Excite@Home Corp.'s tenure as Cox's resident Internet-service provider, it provided broadband local-content pages to cable-modem users in several Cox markets. All that changed in December when the high-speed service financially imploded, leaving Cox to build its own cable-modem network and create a new service.

For content, the MSO tapped CIMedia, which created broadband versions for 10 existing local sites and quickly added 10 new sites under a new SimplyLocal brand. CIMedia has been in business as an Internet advertising and Web content production shop since 1997.

"We, as a sister company, had to quickly step up and expand our broadband programming in the Cox Communications markets," said Peter Winter, CIMedia's CEO. "So we, too, didn't have much of a Christmas vacation."

The pages emphasize local content and information, from movie schedules, restaurant guides and recreation information to weather, news and sports. CIMedia's sales force uses the local bend to sell Web advertising and promotional space to local merchants.

Although its number of broadband portal pages doubled, CIMedia only added a few new names to its company payroll. Winter said that was possible because of the Internet's lack of geographic boundaries.

"Really, it not so much of a technology or platform load on us. It's more of a people load," Winter said. "But we are able to because we are a network — we are very efficient at distributing content, and we'll just continue to leverage those efficiencies that we have built."

Since the new sites debuted, CIMedia's total network traffic has doubled, and there has been a 15 percent increase in page views and a 26 percent increase in unique visitors.

There also is evidence the subscribers approve of the content itself. While Winter couldn't give exact figures, he said there was a "surprisingly high percentage" of subscribers keeping the content as their default start page. "We are very pleased with the take — we are not getting much churn off it at all."

In particular, he points to San Diego's portal, which has in the past few months become the highest-rated local Web site in the United States based on unique visitors and page views. CIMedia statistics indicate it has a higher audience than The New York Times
or Washington Post
Web sites, and four times the audience of the local San Diego Union Tribune's Web site.

Broadband access plus strong local content "is going to prove to be a winning combination," Winter said. "The medium is not about giving people something to read — it is about helping people find things."

Although broadband has been touted as a rich media driver, the individual portals are not showcases crammed with video and flash animation.

CIMedia sites like Orange County, Calif.'s offer broadband music, gaming and video downloads, but the focus is on offering the same utilities as its narrowband version, according to Keith Greer, the site's manager.

"What we have found is that broadband people really do the same things that dialup people do — they just do more of it," Greer said. "The advantage of broadband in that it is on all of the time means that people will more frequently use it."

Cox will also use the start pages as a vehicle to promote new services to its subscribers. The sites include TV listings, interactive cable guides, channel lineups and an item for pay-per-view.

"Behind this there is a fundamental belief that this business is about retaining the audience and monetizing it," Winter said. "So while I'm sure at some point there will be conversations about what other online services are promoted off of that page, right now we are the primary programmer of that page, and it is the collective Cox's belief that we should be trying to retain and monetize that audience."