Cox Communications Inc. said last week that it will test
the market demand for high-definition television in its Omaha, Neb., system, with the help
of local CBS Corp. affiliate KMTV and local consumer-electronics retailer Nebraska
KMTV does not yet offer digital signals over the air. In
the initial market test with Cox, the local television station will pull down a HDTV feed
from the CBS network and ship it to Cox on a fiber optic connection, Cox of Omaha vice
president of public affairs Mike Kohler said.
The MSO and the broadcaster have not publicly announced
their HDTV plans to local viewers because the HDTV-encoder modules needed to connect
digital-television receivers to the Motorola Broadband Communications Sector
"DCT-2000" digital-cable boxes are not yet available.
Cox should have the boxes to deliver to Nebraska Furniture
Mart within the next two weeks, Kohler predicted.
Most cable operators are waiting for digital-television and
cable-compatibility standards to be finalized and digital must-carry issues to be resolved
before they move forward with large-scale HDTV rollouts.
But some operators -- including Time Warner Cable and
Cablevision Systems Corp. -- offer select HDTV programming in a limited number of markets.
Cox will charge no additional fees to its digital-cable
customers who choose to watch the HDTV programming. In addition to CBS, Cox will also make
Home Box Office's HDTV feed available at no additional charge to digital-cable
customers who already take HBO.
Kohler predicted that other networks would follow suit with
HDTV programming once the market test gets under way.
Cox expects demand for the HDTV service to be driven in
part by CBS' plans to produce and air high-profile sporting events in HDTV, including
the Masters Golf Tournament, U.S. Open tennis matches and National Football League games.
CBS already airs many of its primetime series in HDTV,
including Touched by an Angel and Everybody Loves Raymond.
Cox serves about 172,000 homes in its Omaha system,
including about 20,000 digital customers. Kohler said the digital service is available to
all of the homes passed in the Omaha system, but he admitted that the penetration of HDTV
sets in the market is still quite low.