Cable operators pushing bundles of voice, video and data services will soon be able to add something new to their packages: a nanny cam.
Monitoring youngsters will be just one of the options available through the new audio and video features found on Internet-based home security systems that cable operators plan to launch this year.
Earlier this month, Security Broadband Corp. said two of its MSO investors — Cox Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. — would begin limited market launches of its SafeVillage home security system in the first quarter.
Cox will first deploy the system in Las Vegas, where it conducted a successful 100-home technical trial in fall 2000. Comcast has set Sarasota, Fla., as its launch site and is conducting tests there.
Monitored home security is a proven consumer business that requires little capital outlay for operators looking to derive new monthly revenues from their investment in two-way broadband cable plant, said Security chief operating officer Anthony Moreno.
Nearly 20 million U.S. households already pay for home security on a recurrent basis, Moreno said. By offering such advanced features as professional, real-time audio and video monitoring, as well as remote customer access to in-home video cameras and speakers through a password-protected Web site, cable operators can steal market share away from existing home-security companies, he said.
And because the Sept. 11 attacks have promoted more Americans to focus on home and family, it's an opportune time to launch a home-security product.
"It provides customers with a feeling of security, comfort and control, which has always been important, and is even more so now," said Cox vice president of business development Jayson Juraska.
Snowbirds who spend part of the year in a second residence should find the ability to remotely monitor their home appealing, noted Larry Schweber, Comcast's west and central Florida director of marketing.
"Sarasota has a large migration of seasonal people who come here during the winter months," said Schweber. Because they may leave Florida for four or five months of the year, he added, "they're looking for a state-of-the-art security product."
Security customers can use a password-protected Web site to remotely switch in-home microphones and cameras on and off. Schweber suggested that senior citizens share their personal password for the encrypted site with out-of-state family members, who could then check in on them in the event of an emergency.
The in-home cameras also let working parents see whether their children have arrived home safely from school, Moreno said.
Security employees at local monitoring centers would also be able to use the video cameras and microphones to help weed out false alarms or verify if a break-in has occurred.
But SafeVillage customers need not worry that their cable companies can spy on them at odd hours of the day or night. Employees of Security won't have access to in-home audio or video unless an alarm is triggered.
SafeVillage would send any alarms triggered by the system to a local monitoring center via cable modem. And the system employs a redundant telephone connection, so consumer alarms would remain functional should the cable go out, though users would lose any audio or video data that is sent only over the broadband pipe.
Industry executives said the move to 24-hour call centers, the introduction of newer services such as high-speed Internet access and improved customer relationships have helped to give MSOs the authority to offer home-security products.
"The consumer values a well-recognized, local, services-oriented company," Schweber said.
Participating cable operators and Security will co-brand and market SafeVillage. Pricing has not yet been set, although consumers will likely pay for both the hardware and a monthly monitoring fee.
During the marketing test, Cox customers will receive a separate bill for their SafeVillage service, said Juraska. If the tests go well, though, consumers will eventually be able to bundle home security with their voice, video and data accounts.
Comcast also envisions home security as a complement to its existing product lines, Schweber said.
"The more that we're able to offer our customers, the more likely the customer is to see value in who we are," he said.
Cox has initially targeted existing cable-modem customers for the Las Vegas market test.
In Sarasota, Comcast won't limit the home security launch to data-over-cable customers, although Schweber acknowledged, "that's our priority market niche."
Other industries also plan to tie the Internet to the lucrative home-security business. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this month, the Internet Home Alliance announced that its OnStar at Home Pilot Program would conduct trials of such consumer networked-services as home automation and security in 100 Detroit-area homes.
Comcast's cable modems will provide the broadband connections in the OnStar at Home trial, according to Tim Wallaert, director of program management for Invensys Home Control Systems, which provides the home gateway for the project.
The trials will afford partners such as ADT Security Services Inc. with feedback on the features consumers actually use, rather than just those they say they want. The tests will also help refine demographic targets, Wallaert said.