Time Warner Puts an Interactive Foot Forward


With so many new products on its shelf — and a belief that there's nothing like showing them off in public to generate sales — Time Warner Cable's San Antonio system is setting up permanent shelf space in malls to drive those services home.

The first Interactive Infotainment Center opened Aug. 15 inside Rivercenter Mall. Residing in the middle of a hallway on the mall's third floor, the 150-square-foot kiosk hosts advanced service demonstrations.

At least one Time Warner staffer, and as many as four, operate the center at any moment and sign up new customers.

Officials from the San Antonio system, which has more than 310,000 basic subscribers, anticipate running three more Interactive Information Centers by year-end, and adding at least one more location early in 2004. The second center, already constructed at Ancira Sports Park, is expected to open this week. North Star Mall is among the sites under consideration.

At this point, San Antonio's approach to destination promotion of high-speed Internet access, video-on-demand and other advanced products isn't being eyed by Time Warner as a national prototype. But it is one of several promising forms of retail outreach crafted in the last year or so.

"There's some sort of public retail everywhere, including other mall usage, community events and county fairs," a company spokeswoman said. "Nationally, there's no plan to do something identical for everyone," the official added, explaining that Time Warner is decentralized and encourages inventive local initiatives.

"It's too early to say how much we're accomplishing in sales, but the feedback from both our reps and consumers has been very positive," noted Jon Herrera, Time Warner Cable's public and government affairs director in San Antonio. "Clearly, when you deal with products like high-speed [data] and high-definition TV, these are products that consumers must touch and feel and visually see for themselves."

Time Warner has budgeted "tens of thousands of dollars" on the Interactive Infotainment Center's design and operation, Herrera said. Local firm Parker and Wood was retained to design and construct the kiosk.

Initially, the center is displaying HDTV channels on two flat-screen plasma TVs, Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation video games, RoadRunner high-speed Internet service, digital video recorders and wireless cable modems.

Herrera makes sure bilingual sales representatives are stationed at the kiosk most hours. "Being a Latino, in a city with 58% Latino population and growing, you pay particular attention to that demographic," he said.

Video-on-demand, interactive TV and additional HDTV programming will be rotated into the demonstration lineup down the road, as will other high-speed Internet service providers.