In Los Angeles, the DVRs in the Mail


In Time Warner Cable's Los Angeles division, the check isn't in the mail, but the digital video recorder is. The division, which serves 350,000 customers in Los Angeles and Orange counties, launched the product July 1.

Executives are hopeful that a majority of customers who sign up for the option will also use self-installation.

So far, the system has used bill announcements and its Web site to boost awareness of DVRs. Early adopters have been able to place themselves on a sign-up list on the Web site.

At launch, 1,000 customers had asked for the service, and 90% had opted to receive their instructions — and the box — by mail.

No truck roll

Time Warner currently charges $29 for a truck roll. The self-installation, which includes a mailer that allows the customer to send back their current digital set-top, costs less than that, said director of new products Max Herbas.

"UPS has been very good. It's about $15 for [shipping] both ways," he said.

Consumers will pay $9.95 for the recording functionality enabled by the Scientific-Atlanta Inc. Explorer 8000 set-top. That is about $3 less per month than TiVo Inc. charges.

The Time Warner product has 40 hours of recording capacity, which allows a user to record two different programs at the same time while watching a third. It also enables picture-in-picture capabilities, with DVR functionality in both windows.

Executives joked that they finally have a product they believe can finally compete with operators' biggest competition in Southern California: the weather.

"It's always been our competitor. Now it can be our biggest friend," said Herbas. Subscribers can enjoy their outdoor activities, yet still come home and watch their favorite shows, archived on the DVR.

Once a consumer orders the service, they'll receive a box including installation instructions, a viewer's guide and other marketing materials, plus a box in which to ship the digital converter currently in use in their home. Executives are confident the material is explanatory enough that telephone calls for clarification will be kept to a minimum.

Less hassle

Consumers can still opt for a truck roll, but executives believe subscribers will choose the option that requires no trip to the office and no wait for an installer.

This is not the first time the system has used a mailer. The Chatsworth office in the Los Angeles city franchise has been using a box recovery mail-back program for about one year. That program is administered in conjunction with marketer Hamilton Direct Inc.

After 60 days, names of non-paying accounts with outstanding converters or modems are turned over to the Hamilton Direct equipment-retrieval program. The marketer calls the customer to advise them if they don't return the box, the cost of the missing hardware will be put on their credit report. Then, the offender is offered the mailer.

Hamilton Direct sends them a box into which they can place Time Warner's equipment. The box can be left at any UPS or Mailboxes Etc. location for return to the cable operator.

"As a result, we have fewer boxes outstanding than most Time Warner systems," said Bob Thoreson, director of security at Time Warner West Valley.

The system is also trying in the field to reduce attempts by non-paying customers to sign up for cable again. Often, non-pays attempt to resume cable service by having a roommate call in the order, or by using another person's name.

Now, installers ask for an ID code during digital installs. No ID means no digital box, although the install will be completed. If the company demands an ID, it insures that the financial information and the customer ID will match and facilitate tracing.

Time Warner will launch its initial general marketing campaign for the DVR service in August, executives said. The division has hardware in stock to serve 12,000 DVR clients by the end of this year, Herbas said.