Bend’s hometown cable operator is facing 50 with as much energy and sass as Lauren Hutton did. It’s been invigorated with new management in the form of its recently promoted co-presidents, Byron Cotton and Ray Spreier. It’s leveraging its freshly upgraded plant—thanks to its just-completed, four-year, multimillion dollar rebuild—with a new array of advanced services (starting with HDTV and DVR service) to stake its claim on the future. BendCable’s even got a new name—BendBroadband. “The name BendCable simply does not fit who we are as a company,” says Spreier. “We offer so much more than traditional cable service, as the word ‘cable’ implies one-way service to the home. ‘Broadband’ more accurately captures the two-way nature of our current and future offerings, which expands access and control for our customers.” The company has come a long way since it was founded as Bend Television with three TV channels in 1955. It was the first to offer cable modem high-speed Internet service in Oregon, launching in 1998 as one of the first non-Time Warner systems with Road Runner (using Motorola modems) before launching InstaNet, its own broadband product, to residential customers in 2000. “Road Runner was a very good partnership and really gave us a framework to be successful,” says BendBroadband owner and CEO Amy Tykeson. “We really set our quality of service metrics pretty high and pursued the business community right from the beginning, which helped us build a lot of credibility and demand as a result.” The company hit 10,000 cable modem subs earlier this year and now has over 12,000 HSD subs; of those, 11,000 are residential and the rest are business customers. Bend is currently launching HDTV service, following a soft launch with select local retailers this fall. In its first two weeks it picked up over 100 HD customers and is on track to have about 500 customers by the end of the holiday selling season. Its $9.95 HD lineup includes ESPN HD, Discovery HD, HDNet and HDNet Movies; Showtime and HBO customers also receive those hi-def feeds. “We’re working on getting broadcast HD [off-air locals] including OPB [Oregon Public Broadcasting] down from Portland via fiber, and that’s been quite a technology challenge for us,” notes Cotton. The next launch on its Motorola platform, also this month, is DVR service. “We’ve just deployed a bunch of 6200s [Motorola set-tops] and we’re currently testing their 6208 [DVR] hard-drive product,” Cotton says. “We’re hoping around Dec. 15 to roll out a DVR service and to showcase the 6208 in the four retailer locations we’re working with for HDTV.” Pricing is still being firmed up; Cotton sees DVR with TV Guide being priced for about $10 to rent the box. “We would prefer to sell the box, but boxes are kind of high right now and we anticipate they will come down quite a bit over the next six to eight months. So we will probably lease them for a while and then try to sell them by midyear 2004.” By that point Bend will have fired another arrow in its quiver: video on demand. “We want to offer some time-shifted availability from OPB and others, so that not only will we have the standard set of movies on demand but will make our VOD product something that’s used every day, instead of just Friday or Saturday nights,” Cotton says. “We have a number of high school football games and other local sporting events that we already produce for our local origination channel that we’ll put on our VOD servers to feature our exclusive localized content.” That local content should help BendBroadband stave off any inroads from satellite. “It’s really critical, and our main advantage compared to the satellite folks,” says Cotton. “We are a ski destination town, so to the extent that you can find instructional videos and that kind of material on demand, there is definite educational potential here and there are some great content partners that one could create to drive usage on the VOD system.” Cotton is excited about local ad sales opportunities with SeaChange’s VOD ad insertion technology. Bend currently offers 24 channels of insertion (which will increase in January, along with the number of zones for ad sales) plus Ad Central 4, a 24/7 advertising channel for real estate and local business ads. The broadband product is also being sweetened. “We’re going forward with ESPN’s broadband product, and we’re currently working with Cisco as they are in the process of trying to re-license a couple of major portals’ games and other products, so we’re working to be a test site for them,” says Cotton. Home networking will launch as soon as all the security and tech support issues are worked out. The only piece not firmed up is telephony, with VoIP still on the horizon: “We’re waiting for one more round of softswitch development and for some of the bigger systems and MSOs to finish some of their trials,” says Cotton. “We try to build a 10-year forecast into everything we’ve been doing and at least reserve for things like telephony and other advanced services in the $12 million rebuild we’ve just finished in the last 90 days. That all provides us with great capacity for the foreseeable future.” It’s all part of the company’s bigger strategy to become more sales-focused. “We’re really doing a complete reposition of the company so we can compete head on with Rupert when he gets right into DirecTV,” says Cotton of competition from satellite TV, available in the Bend area via big retailers such as Costco. “The big focus right now is to rebrand our name and to really focus on great customer service as well as a full and more complete suite of technology products.” BendBroadband is almost unrecognizable from the system that Tykeson’s father, Don, purchased from Liberty Communications in the early ’80s and built up to encompass Sisters, Black Butte and its Redmond system, which was acquired from Falcon Community Cable in 1998. (In November of that year the Bend Cable added 70 miles to its fiber network to connect Sister and Redmond.) “We spent $12 million on just the rebuild, but in total it’s closer to $30 million that we’ve invested in our system to get us to where we’re at today,” says Amy Tykeson. “We really realized early on if we didn’t make those investments, with the competition such that it is, there wouldn’t be an opportunity. We will continue to invest in new technologies that are warranted, that give us a competitive advantage but also have some sort of a decent ROI.” As a former HBO marketer in Chicago and New York, Tykeson brought back to Bend a big-city flair for promotional savvy, strategic thinking and brand positioning. She’s particularly proud of the catchy spots from local agency Mandala that cleverly spoofed Abraham Lincoln to promote InstaNet and that are now promoting the rebranding and advanced-product launches. Bend’s head of marketing, Kate McPhillips, is charged with carrying out the repositioning and sharpening the creative. As a privately held company (with an outside board of directors), Tykeson says her family is proud of the company’s growth. “We’ve had to really keep an eye on what has the most potential upside for our customer base,” she says. “Because we have one head-end, if we take on a project, unlike an MSO where you can try it in one location and roll it out…we don’t have that luxury. We can’t afford to be too early with some of the technology. We like to be close to the edge of leading technology, but not too close to the blade.” As for advice from her father: “One of the biggest things I get from my dad is to be continually thinking about the future and investing in the future,” says BendBroadband’s thoroughly modern CEO. “Then to hire the best people you can and give them the freedom to do their jobs. And most of all, to have fun. Of course it’s a business, but it’s got to be fun—or why do it?