Adelphia has helped restore cable’s battered reputation in Southern California by employing a simple, elegant strategy: rebuild the plant, offer a service customers want and promote the hell out of it. Of Adelphia’s more than 1.2 million cable customers in Southern California, about 30,000 take HDTV along with other services. Adelphia made HD available to much of the region in July 2003. All but 200,000 of Adelphia’s Southern California customers reside in Los Angeles and vicinity. That includes West Hollywood and nearby areas, under systems Adelphia acquired from Century Communications in late 1999—systems notorious for faulty plant, intermittent outages and customer service problems. Adelphia has rebuilt the plant in those communities over the last three years—or since Mariann Belmonte came in as sales and marketing VP for Southern California affairs. Although the company wouldn’t specify how many subscribers it has added as a direct result of offering HDTV, the rebuild (the system operates at 550 MHz and is two-way) and the introduction of HD has improved cable’s reputation generally—and Adelphia’s specifically—in Southern California. "Having [HDTV] along with other advanced video products like VOD and DVRs goes a long way in solidifying our customer base and making them happy," Belmonte says. "We’re doing it with a stable system infrastructure. There’s been no negative feedback at all. Subs love it and tell you that if you want to take HD away, you’d have to pry it out of their cold, dead hands. The demand among upscale or high-end users alone is so strong." Belmonte knows a little about the adoption of high technology—before joining Adelphia, she was marketing/sales VP at Excite@Home’s Solutions division, which worked with midsize and small cable system owners. HD Lineup: Room to Grow At the moment, eight HDTV channels are available to Adelphia Southern California subscribers. Basic customers with HD sets can get HD transmissions of local CBS (KCBS), NBC (KNBC), Fox (KTTV), ABC (KABC) and PBS (KCET) affiliates for free. HBO and Showtime premium subs get the respective HD versions for no extra charge. The only HD service with a fee attached—for now—is ESPN HD, priced at $1.50 per month; subscribers get the first month free. Adelphia will add Discovery HD Theater and Cinemax’s HD service before the end of the year. Negotiations are under way with several other programmers, including In Demand. Subscribers in Van Nuys and other places where HDTV is unavailable will get access next year when the rebuild is completed, Belmonte promises. Most of the HD promotions Adelphia has deployed so far have been aimed at Los Angeles’ high number of early high-tech adopters. The Anaheim Angels’ opening day game in 2003 was an HD showcase four months ahead of the launch, as Adelphia and ESPN HD teamed up on a local presentation of the game in Anaheim. Plasma sets from Pioneer were placed all over Edison Field so that fans could watch both the team and the HD picture. Later, four vans were equipped with HD and high-speed modems for use at local pro sports games and other events. A first round of cross-channel spots running last summer, created by ad agencies Giant Ideas and Karsch & Hagen, were informational and directed at early adopters. In recent months, the spots from both firms have turned campy and irreverent, while spotlighting what HD adds to individual attractions such as ABC’s Monday Night Football. These spots go for a broader audience, says Jeffrey Kapner, Adelphia’s California marketing/strategy director. "We’re concentrating on the events and programs to show how better they are in HD," he says. Adelphia’s website offers news and features about HD, updated on a regular basis. The site also notes where HD is and isn’t available; consumers who live in areas in which HD is available can order service and set up installation via the site. Adelphia has partnered with the L.A. Marketing Co-Op for its ongoing HDTV promotion, and took part in the joint Samsung/CTAM Only Cable Can campaign last spring and the Panasonic/CTAM drive tied to NBC’s HD Summer Olympics coverage from Athens. More joint efforts to promote HD are in the works. Belmonte only hopes Adelphia won’t get entangled in the kinds of snags that tripped up NBC in its efforts to present the Olympics in HD last summer. "There were complaints about how the coverage wasn’t played in HD at the same time it was on broadcast or cable," she says. "That was discouraging. NBC did a decent job, not a great job. But it did accomplish what we set out to do, which is drive more consumers to purchase HD." On the whole, the promotional effort has moved along well. "As we add Discovery and other services the next few years, the audience interested in HD will get larger," Belmonte predicts. Ethnic outreach will be an important part of Adelphia’s plan to drive subscriber additions with HD service. Adelphia anticipates directing HD promotions at the Latino, Asian-American and the gay/lesbian communities in the near future using niche magazines, radio and other means. For its Latino promotions, Adelphia will partner with the L.A. Co-Op and develop Latino promotions through Castells & Associados, a Spanish-language media agency.