TCI Communications Inc. cable systems across the country
began a joint marketing campaign this fall with Encore Media Group, designed to drive
nonpremium analog customers to digital.
Under the offer, expanded-basic subscribers who upgrade to
digital receive the Encore premium service, plus three or more Encore thematic channels --
such as Westerns, Mystery or Love Stories -- free for up to one year. Participating
systems use direct mail, cross-channel promotions and telemarketing to target
Tele-Communications Inc.'s cable unit has launched
digital services in 97 percent to 98 percent of its systems, according to TCI spokeswoman
LaRae Marsik, and it has signed up well over 850,000 digital customers to date.
Marsik said the majority of TCI's premium subscribers
have already made the switch to digital in order to take advantage of the expanded
multiplex channels that digital offers.
Greg Mills, vice president of digital for Encore, said the
network helped to design this promotion in order to target the roughly 65 percent of cable
customers who don't subscribe to premium-movie services.
"You've got to find a way to get a digital box to
those homes," he said.
Encore's pitch is that digital cable offers a time-
and money-saving alternative to the video store.
Typical TCI systems charge about $3.25 per month for the
digital box, plus $10 per month for the digital programming, which includes 18 or more
newer cable channels, digital music, impulse pay-per-view and expanded premium-multiplex
lineups (for those who subscribe to the premium services on analog).
The digital fee also includes the on-screen navigator,
which Marsik called one of the most popular features of the digital service.
Consumers who take advantage of the promotion need not sign
long-term programming contracts for the Encore channels.
TCI systems that participate in the promotion forfeit for
the short term any of the Encore subscription revenues that they might have gained had the
customers added the channel on their own. But the systems can convert those customers to
paying Encore subscribers once the promotion ends, the operator pointed out.