Olympics Spikes Bay Area Cable Demand

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New subscribers raced to AT&T Broadband in San Francisco in order to watch the Winter Olympics, but some consumers say the cable operator doesn't deserve any medals for its installation schedule.

The operator is benefiting from the change in NBC affiliates in the marketplace that became effective on Jan. 1.

The traditional affiliate, San Francisco's KRON, lost its place with the network when the station's owner, Young Broadcasting Inc., balked at the financial terms demanded by NBC. Instead, NBC bought KNTV, Channel 11 in San Jose.

KNTV then scrambled to improve its channel placement, seeking the Channel 3 slot on as many of AT&T Broadband's systems as possible. The station also sought the same placement with other operators in the area.

Cable coverage is vital for KNTV. Because of the topography of the San Francisco Bay area, the station's off-air signal is weak in many northern communities, including San Francisco. The station also wants the change for uniformity: it has already launched a marketing campaign as NBC3.

Because of the affiliation switch, AT&T Broadband experienced a 15 percent to 20 percent jump in installation requests between Dec. 7 and Jan.9, according to the MSO's vice president of communications Andrew Johnson. He declined to translate that percentage into the number of homes gained.

According to the city, the cable operator had a 55-percent penetration rate before the affiliate change.

But some consumers who didn't jump to cable when the affiliate switched found their interest piqued by the Olympics.

NBC did its part to draw people to its coverage, holding a viewing party on yachts at Pier 3 during the opening ceremonies. And AT&T Broadband advertised cable connections as the only clear way to view the entire event.

But according to local news reports, not all potential subscribers were happy.

According to Johnson, the current increase in installation requests was "not substantial," especially compared with the jump one month ago. He maintained that the longest wait for consumers is two-and-a-half days. Delays only occur when consumers demand a specific day and time for an install, but if they accept the first available slot, the wait is short, he said.

But some customers had a different experience. As the Games began, the San Francisco Chronicle
received complaints that requests for service had been met with installation appointments scheduled for after the Olympics' Feb. 24 conclusion.

The city's department of information services has not recorded complaints about installation times, said deputy director Denise Brady.

Brady said some calls made to the mayor's office supported government efforts to help KNTV strengthen its off-air signal so people wouldn't have to buy cable to get "free" TV.

KNTV's Web site advises non-cable homes to try to point aerials toward its Santa Cruz Mountain antenna.

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