When it comes to fashioning a smart sports strategy—one that incorporates packages customers will embrace without alienating programming partners—it helps if you’re a sports fanatic, not to mention an attorney with a cable affiliate-relations background. "I’m a jock by nature—I just love sports," says Terry Denson, VP, programming, at Insight Communications, who, in addition to tours as an attorney at ABC and a director of affiliate sales and marketing at MTV, played football and was on the track team at Harvard. Denson’s passion for sports—he follows football, basketball, hockey and track and field, to name a few—helped him design a digital sports package that Insight launched July 27 in Columbus, Ohio. If successful, the Columbus experiment could become the model Insight will use to revamp its digital channel lineups companywide. What makes Insight’s digital sports tier unique is its broad scope. Comparing packages and tiers among operators is difficult, but most digital sports tiers have no more than six to eight networks, while some operators may include several more sports nets in their digital basic lineups. Insight customers who sign up for the Digital Gateway tier at $7.95 can add a movie, family or sports and lifestyle package, or "pak," as they are known. In Columbus, Insight removed its lifestyle programming from the sports tier, and created a pure-play sports package of anywhere from 12 to 18 nets, including several Fox Sports diginets, ESPN Classic, ESPN News, Outdoor Life Network, Outdoor Channel, Speed Channel, Golf Network, Tennis Channel, NFL Network and CSTV. "This is an opportunity for us to have a better product when [a customer] calls the first time," Denson says. Insight "is giving the customer an opportunity to have a unique, diverse offering that runs deep but is not expensive." The lifestyle networks have been folded into the family package and rebranded as an entertainment package that will consist of 50 to 59 channels, depending on the system. The movie pak includes 12 to 14 channels. Each pak is priced at $5, or three for $12. (There is no discount for two paks.) Despite what he believes is a customer-friendly tier, Denson predicts there will be a few hiccups, at least initially. Insight notified its Columbus customers of the changes with bill stuffers and cross-channel spots, but as Denson says, who actually reads customer notifications? He expects a fair amount of customer disruption due to the number of channels that are moving, and the company will be watching what happens with call center volume after the switch. "It will either be a roar or a whimper," he says. "If customers complain about the way in which it was handled, then we listen and we learn…It doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to roll it out, it just means that we need to do some things differently." After that first month, Insight will look for signs that the test is a success: churn reduction, increase in digital penetration and increase in package penetration. The changes, if implemented throughout the company, will help streamline Insight’s channel lineups. Today, for instance, National Geographic Channel runs in half of Insight’s systems as an analog channel and in the other half as a digital channel. Other networks are offered in the sports and lifestyle pak in some systems, but in the family pak in other systems. More uniform distribution, which helps in marketing efficiencies and business administration, will be a big benefit to Insight, Denson says. As much as the new sports pak could help drive digital penetration, Insight is hoping that its sports and information SVOD offering, which it launched in May in Peoria and Springfield, Ill., will help drive customers to use VOD. "The three areas that can drive local on demand are local sports, local news and events of local interest," Denson notes. He sees more opportunities in time-shifting local sports events than in, say, starting up a local sports channel or fighting for broadcast rights to local and regional sports events, due to the location of most Insight systems, situated in what he calls "B" counties as opposed to major markets. With his background, he should know.

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