By Mavis Scanlon Wrapping paper will be torn off a lot of plasma TVs, desktop and notebook computers and MP3 players this holiday season, and cable operators couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present. Sales of digital TVs were up 71% through September of this year compared to last year, to 4.4 million, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. That trend should persist through the holiday selling season. CEA projects close to 7 million DTV sets will be sold this year. Although the No. 1 planned consumer electronics gift is the digital camera, the No. 1 desired gift is the plasma TV, the group found in its annual Holiday Sales and Forecast Survey. The breaking out of checkbooks during the yuletide season presents cable with a golden opportunity to boost sales of advanced services, and some operators already are decking the halls with holiday promotional messages. In its radio, print, direct mail and cross-channel holiday campaign to sell all things video and data, Cox is telling consumers that they can get the most out of their new holiday toys by subscribing to Cox services. Dubbed "Wish List," the campaign was conceived by Cox corporate and produced by Doner, Detroit, and is being sent to all Cox systems. The accompanying direct mail pieces can be customized by the individual systems. "We’ve done the bundled message for years," says Cox spokesman Bobby Amirshahi, adding that the campaign’s focus is on data and video services rather than on the triple-play bundle that includes telephony. "But now there’s so many new products and services layered on top of digital, and certainly there is a whole new rush to the Circuit Cities of the world to buy HD sets." With HD and DVR service now available in 95% of its homes passed, Cox sees the benefit in pushing those services, along with digital and data, with one ad, Amirshahi adds. The top MSOs strengthened their partnerships with the big electronics retailers over the two years. Cox’s current campaign with Best Buy promotes three free months of Cox’s high-speed Internet service and $100 refunds on HDTV purchases when coupled with Cox HDTV service. All the big MSOs have stepped up their retail campaigns through CTAM’s Only Cable Can consortium as well. At the local level, some systems still were putting finishing touches on holiday creative in mid-November. Time Warner Cable of New York and New Jersey, for example, has several offers for digital TV, VOD and telephony, but for the most part they are offers that alternated throughout the year. The system will be pushing VOD a little harder this holiday season—customers who order a movie on demand can enter a sweepstakes to win $1,000. Digital customers who sign up in December get one month of service free, according to Time Warner Cable public relations manager Suzanne Giuliani, and one month of any premium channel, while new Road Runner customers get six months of service at $29.95 with a self-install. Time Warner Cable is making a big push for Road Runner at the corporate level. The Road Runner holiday campaign, which includes four TV spots along with radio, online, bill inserts and billboards, is designed to highlight the usefulness of Road Runner by showing how different families use the service, says Gregg DiPaolo, SVP, high-speed data, for Time Warner Cable. In one spot, a country farmer is bussed by his wife after he picks out the perfect dress for her online. "It’s one of those touchy-feely, warm for the holidays [ads], but we stay true to our core messaging," DiPaolo says. "We want to feature the speed and the always-on connection."

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AMC Networks teamed up with Adopt-a-Pet.com, North America’s largest non–profit pet adoption website, for AMC’s annual horror marathon “FearFest.” All month

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