While cable operators and retailers across the U.S.
continue to work out the business models for their long-term marketing partnerships, cable
modems will enjoy center stage this summer as Excite@Home embarks on year two of its mall
Cox Communications of Rhode Island will cohost the first
leg of the 20-city tour this weekend, June 18-20, at the Warwick Mall in Warwick, R.I.
Cisco Systems Inc. is co-sponsoring the tour, dubbed The Cable Internet Revolution Expo.
Other marketing partners include technology vendors Com21
Inc., General Instrument Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi, Intel and Samsung, as well as
content providers Showtime Networks Inc., Travelocity and Segasoft's Heat.Net.
"The Excite@Home product really requires the consumer
to sit down and touch it and feel it and play with it," Excite@Home vice president of
affiliate relations Rob Banham said. "This tour provides a strong way to get
broadband in front of consumers."
Last year's 12-city mall tour was so successful, it has
been expanded to 20 markets and will run through November, said Banham.
This is the first year Cox of Rhode Island has participated
in the tour. The MSO began marketing @Home's high-speed Internet access in February 1998.
Warwick was its first @Home market in Rhode Island.
The cable operator chose the Warwick Mall as its venue
because it is centrally located within Rhode Island and should be able to attract
consumers from all over the state, Cox New England director of voice and data marketing
Scott Hightower said.
The Rhode Island event is expected draw both passers-by and
those who sought the mall tour as a destination after seeing an ad or direct mail piece,
Cox will draw names from everyone who takes the time to
watch a demonstration and will award prizes such as T-shirts, hats and jackets.
To drum up support for the tour, Cox this week will run
local print ads and radio spots promoting the tour. It also sent invitations to targeted
consumers within the areas where the operator already offers Excite@Home. The tour is also
promoted on the local Cox Interactive web site, oso.com.
This weekend is the last in a month-long promotion during
which the operator is offering cable modem installation for $49.95, plus free service for
the first month.
Cox dominates the Rhode Island market, providing
cable-television access to about 96 percent of the state. Cox@Home is available in most of
Rhode Island's major markets, Hightower said, and four or five smaller towns will add the
service as the operator continues to upgrade its plant.
The majority of new Cox@Home cable modem customers sign up
through calls to its customer service phone lines, Hightower said, "but we've seen
the number of retail sales steadily climb."
While this is Cox of Rhode Island's first Excite@Home mall
tour stop, the operator is no stranger to retail. Cox also partners with CompUSA and local
computer stores to display and sell the cable modem service. The operator also
periodically rents exhibit space to hold its own demonstrations.
At this weekend's expo, the sponsors will showcase new
technologies, including a number of DOCSIS-compliant cable modems. The displays will give
attendees the chance to ask questions about the shift to DOCSIS standards, Hightower said.
Cox is already DOCSIS compliant in its most-recently launched cable modem markets, and
will upgrade its others.
Teaching consumers about DOCSIS, Hightower said,
"gives them a comfort level in purchasing a cable modem" because they'll
understand that the modems will be compatible if they move to a new service area.
Although Hightower couldn't predict how many people will
attend the expo this weekend, Banham estimates more than one million people will visit
during the course of the six-month tour.
And Banham believes the attendance won't be limited to
non-subscribers. Excite@Home will notify its current subscribers about the tour through
its Web site in the hopes that they'll be attracted by the new-technology demos, such as
Hitachi's 36-inch flat-panel monitors.
"Existing customers are great advocates of the
service" and help to spread the word to potential new customers, Banham said.
Showtime will appear at the mall tour for the first time
this year. It plans to show video feeds from its premium-movie service, as well as online
content from its sho.com Web site, which features its original online series, Whirl Girl.
"We're pushing the online part of Showtime now more
than ever," vice president of marketing campaigns and promotions Rick King said.
"Given our 'No Limits' branding campaign, it makes
sense to associate ourselves with technology that's on the cutting edge," King added.
Showtime hopes to use the mall tour to sign up customers
for its premium multiplex package, but King admitted its the ability to do so depends on
the individual cable operators involved with the tour. For those operators who don't
cross-sell Showtime at the events, the network can still collect customer data to share
with its affiliates through its online demos, King suggested.
"The easiest way to make the sale is to have the
cooperation of the operator," he added.
Showtime will make available its summer premium, the
Showtime cooler backpack, for operators to use as incentive to sign up new customers on
Because the cable modem service is so widely available,
Hightower said, he doesn't expect to see many attendees who are ineligible for the
service. If a consumer does try to sign up but lives in an area not yet covered by
Cox@Home, the operator will try to provide a time frame for when to expect the service,
and then add the customer's name to a database.