If you’re ever wondering what cable’s been doing lately to fight the competition, we suggest a visit to Time Warner Cable’s Columbus, Ohio, system. Over the 34 years Time Warner has served this city and surrounding suburbs, the system has developed a reputation for being among the MSO’s first to test and launch advanced products. For instance, Qube, the locally produced interactive TV service with the funny-sounding name, sparked national headlines for the system 28 years ago, and later inspired shows such as Pinwheel and Video Pick Hits—-which in turn became the inspirations for the national rollouts of Nickelodeon and MTV. The system hasn’t made many national headlines since Qube was discontinued in 1984. But locally, Time Warner Cable’s penchant for service introductions endures, amid competition from DBS and overbuilders. When Time Warner decided in 1999 to have each of its systems offer high-speed Web access from multiple vendors (instead of just Road Runner), Columbus was where the process was developed and tested, and where it eventually premiered. In the last six months alone, the system has deployed telephony using voice over IP infrastructure, and DVRs with extra capacity to handle HDTV networks. Fighting Competition With Innovation In the coming six months, rollouts of a local programming VOD channel, on-screen bill payment features and multi-room DVRs are on tap for the system’s 325,000 customers. Those customers also can look forward to reliving the Qube days, or understanding them for the first time, as the case may be. Selected shows from the service’s archives will be dusted off and carried on the local VOD channel, sharing time with recent city government and cultural events, local PBS station attractions and high school sports. Time Warner is "a winner on many levels," says Mike Brown, communications director for Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman. "They are on the technology forefront and, as a customer, you often know you’re getting the kind of high-tech services, like VOD or high-speed access, that you want in the home. People know they are getting some of the best services available in the nation. [Additionally,] the mayor has a community complaint line, known as the Action Center. Not one complaint has been phoned in about Time Warner yet." Time Warner Columbus system president Rhonda Fraas intends to keep it that way, despite growing competition from overbuilder WideOpenWest—which services portions of the city as well as many suburbs—and DBS players DirecTV and EchoStar. Her three-pronged strategy: Keep the new products coming, improve customer service and increase community outreach. "There’s two reasons why our parent company sees us as an early home for new services," she says. "[One,] from Qube on, our customers have embraced new technologies and services. They expect innovation from our system, and when word of something new hits the market, [the customers] call us to be beta testers." Secondly, Columbus’ technical crew is highly regarded by corporate management. "They’ve built up a high confidence level with the corporate office, based on the excellence of executing each new service," Fraas says. Of about 868,000 TV households in the Columbus area, 17% —151,353 households—subscribes to DBS, according to Media Business Corp.’s DataBRIDGE division. WideOpenWest doesn’t release subscriber counts of individual franchises. For Fraas, customer satisfaction starts with the confidence her 800-plus employees have in the products they’re selling. "Central to that is effectively supporting your employees and training them to showcase your services," says Fraas, who started her tenure in Columbus 18 years ago as customer service manager. "There’s a certain way to hook DVRs up to particular TV sets, [and if] that doesn’t get communicated among customers, that leads to dissatisfaction. The mantra here is you serve people well by serving your employees well." Time Warner’s customer service reps in Columbus meet with employees from marketing, technical operations and other departments on special committees formed for each new product deployment. Having input from different sources on each committee helps spot rollout problems faster and reduces the risk of problematic installations—and frustration—among early adopters. "Service excellence is paramount here because of our competition," says Paul Schonewolf, customer operations VP in Columbus. "If we don’t provide that [high] level of service, someone else will." First to Market, First in Service One way Time Warner fights the competition in Columbus is by focusing local media promotions on services not available from DBS or overbuilders, such as VOD, digital phone and high-definition DVRs. Under Mark Psigoda’s direction, cross-channel messages, radio and newspaper advertising tout several products at once, using elements of Time Warner’s MSO-wide "Now Anything’s Possible" campaign. As those messages circulate, direct sales reps visit DBS and other non-cable homes each week, showcasing new services and inviting consumers to switch to cable through a win-back deal, or to connect for the first time. Whether the marketing message comes via the TV or directly from a sales rep, the image Time Warner wants to get across is that of a first-to-market service provider. "We’re always stressing the ability of people to control their viewing experience," says Psigoda, VP of sales and marketing. "You point out how each product is cool and innovative for someone’s lifestyle." The system builds customer loyalty and creates buzz for new services with its "President’s Club," whose membership is open to all subscribers. Members get a mailer every three months, alerting them to new services. The mailer includes discount coupons for various system offerings such as Road Runner and lists local attractions. One recent mailing offered $500 in money-saving coupons, including an offer from the Columbus Jazz Orchestra to buy a concert ticket and get a second ticket free. "This is one of the best customer education vehicles we have," Psigoda says. Columbus’ 106,000-square-foot facility, which was renovated in 2003, has made it easier for Time Warner to fine-tune new services and ensure efficient, quick deployment of field crews. A former Sam’s Club warehouse, the building serves as Time Warner’s technical center, at which installers are trained in working with advanced services. It houses a pair of simulated two-story homes equipped with high-speed access and digital connections, as well as voice over IP telephony. Technicians roam the rooms of each home on a regular basis and install different services. Service reps are encouraged to visit the tech center for briefings on new services; the call center itself is equipped with HD sets and Road Runner connections so that solutions to recurring HD or high-speed problems can be tested. Also, 10 CSRs who can’t work at system headquarters due to disability or other extenuating circumstances have call center capabilities at home. "If a snowstorm hits us at morning rush hour, they can take calls initially directed to reps that are absent or delayed by traffic breakdowns," says Kathy Chamberlain, customer care VP. "We also [turn to] them when problems occur on weekends, especially Sunday nights." The home office outreach started last year and may be expanded over the coming months. Reaching Out Beats Winning Back "You can’t emphasize the focus on customer care enough," says Fraas. "A poor experience is the trigger that gives the customer thoughts about switching. We do well with win-back offers. But the goal here is not to lose customers in the first place." Outreach is another important retention tool. When Mayor Coleman established an after-school activities program, the system quickly wired all the recreation facilities with Road Runner. Last fall, Time Warner donated $37,500 in cable installation fees it collected in August to local literacy programs. Last summer, Time Warner exhibited digital phone and HD services at the annual Dublin Irish Festival, attended by more than 500,000 people. The system regularly sets up booths at ethnic street festivals as part of an effort to reach out to Latino and Asian residents. "When there’s an event, you’ll definitely bump into Time Warner people," says Brown. "WideOpenWest and the other competitors do fine stuff for our area, but the system not only has more local presence, they back up the outreach with public service message time and all sorts of resources." Some of those resources are being applied to the upcoming rollouts of local VOD and on-screen billing and other new service deployments. Field personnel are getting up to speed on how to work multi-room DVRs, while CSRs are getting demonstrations on the new bill-paying process—using Navic Networks software—and how to showcase it during service calls. "We already have committees set up to plan each of these rollouts," Fraas says. For subscribers, on-screen billing "will make information access a lot easier," Chamberlain says. "But if they want to call us, that’s OK too." As for beyond 2005, Schonewolf and his engineering team are reviewing ways to increase channel capacity and ultimately convert to an all-digital/IP operation. "We’re looking at all alternatives, including compression, to see what we need or must do to get the most capacity," he says. For some Columbus customers, another look at Qube through local VOD or the return of ITV through on-screen billing may elicit feelings of d�j� vu. Fraas doesn’t see it that way. "A lot of our customers saw Qube as an innovation, and they still count on us to deliver the newest and latest products," she says. "They have an expectation of what we’ll do, and we have to exceed that expectation." Time Warner Cable Columbus By the Numbers Employees: 842 Miles of plant: 7,425 Homes passed: 605,426 Bandwidth: 750 MHz Percent upgraded: 100% Basic subs: 325,189 Basic penetration: 54% Basic cable rate: $14.10/mo. Digital subs: 159, 166 Digital penetration: 49% Digital tier rate: $11.10/mo. HSD subs: 137,737 HSD penetration: 42% HSD rate: $44.95/mo. Bundle rate: $124/mo. HDTV: 13 channels—local CBS, NBC, PBS, UPN stations, Discovery HD Theater, HBO, Showtime, INHD, INHD2, ESPN, HDNet, HDNet Movies, TNT HD HDTV subs: 17,537 HDTV tier rate: $6.95 mo./5 channels VOD: Launched August 2002 DVR: Launched May 2003 DVR subs: 30,355 HD DVR: Launched Sept. 2004 HD DVR subs: 3,446 VoIP/digital phone: Launched August 2004 VoIP subs: 5,756 Ad insertion: 38 channels Source: Time Warner Cable

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