Memo to Cable Operators: Push convenience when you market wireless phone service — it’s working well for Cox in San Diego.

Cox San Diego began offering Mobile Access phone service three months ago. The fruit of the Sprint/MSO joint venture, Mobile Access was renamed Pivot last month, and is also being marketed under that brand by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, two of the JV’s four MSO partners (the fourth, Bright House Networks, has yet to launch wireless phone. See our Q&A with JV chief John Garcia on page 6).

Highlighting the convenience of Pivot in marketing campaigns is the key to selling cable’s version of wireless phone, says Madison Ryland, Cox San Diego’s marketing director for new product development. Operators rolling out Pivot should stress its function as a handy convergence point for many of cable’s services: voicemail, email, mobile and home phone calling. "You can’t emphasize convenience enough, including one bill for wireless together with other services," he says. "That’s what will distinguish your wireless product from others out there." The other major selling point? "Prompt sales."

Early anecdotal feedback from Cox’s wireless phone customers suggests that while they’re happy with the product, they want to be able to access their DVRs so they can watch video on their cell phones. "We’re working on that," Ryland says, without offering specifics on when that feature might be offered.

While declining to provide specifics on the number of wireless phone customers, Ryland says that sales "have exceeded our projection."

Pivoting Payments

Pivot subscribers pay from $29.99 to $99.99 a month, based on the wireless features they select. The basic $29.99 service package includes 200 free wireless minutes; the maximum $99.99 level includes 2,000 wireless minutes. Unlimited calls between mobile and home digital phones, mobile displays of Cox’s Web portal (along with live feeds from CNN, The Weather Channel and ABC News Now) and email boxes are some of the other available features.

In its Pivot marketing, Cox emphasizes its experience with triple-play bundles, the convenience of Pivot and its easy-to-use features. "We have a track record of leadership in video, voice and data offerings, so it just makes sense to put the record up as a talking point," says Colette Jelineo, the system’s VP of marketing.

Triple-play subscribers account for the majority of Pivot customers, Jelineo says. "They tend to be so tech-adept, they have and love HD, VOD and DVRs," she says.

Jelineo admits that the system refrained from embarking on an all-out campaign while it waited for the Sprint/MSO joint venture to settle on a national brand name. "Now we can use our whole arsenal of marketing tactics to build awareness and brand equity among our customers at the same time," Jelineo says. Late last month, Cox began running cross-channel promos and sending direct mail promoting the Pivot brand.

Jelineo expects to add radio, broadcast station spots and broadband messages to the mix. She will launch broadcast spots when Time Warner Cable launches Pivot in its San Diego area systems. Once Time Warner announces a start date, Jelineo will discuss with executives there the possibility of a joint marketing effort.

Get Your Solutions Here

Pivot isn’t the only new service that’s been cranked out by Cox in San Diego. High-speed Internet access users can order software or have issues such as spam and viruses resolved through a "Tech Solutions" outreach program that’s been available since January.

For a couple of years, Cox has been researching the idea of offering to high-speed customers the option of having a technician make a home service call, for a fee. San Diego’s Tech Solutions program is based on that research: Technicians dedicated to high-speed service visit homes and deal with virus cleanup, new software installation and other complex transactions. The cost is $49.95 to $150, depending on the work required (see CableWorld, Meet the MSO, 4/2/07).

Expanded Programming

Cox is also taking care to enhance programming. The number of HD channels on the system will grow from 18 to 24 over the next few months. This follows the mid-March introduction of HD Movies on Demand, which offers viewers six HD features each month among the system’s 4,200 VOD programs. On-demand traffic averages more than 6 million views per month, compared to about 1 million per month in the spring of 2005.

Pushing the Local Advantage

Channel 4 San Diego, the system’s ad-supported local origination channel, marked the start of the baseball season this spring — and its own 10-year anniversary — by moving to a new multimillion dollar HD studio in Diamond View Towers, near the San Diego Padres’ Petco Park. "You can see home plate from the back wall of our pre- and postgame show studio," says Craig Nichols, Channel 4’s VP and general manager.

Nichols hopes to offer a wider array of original shows later this year, including more newsmagazine, cultural and lifestyle series. The channel presents 144 Padres regular-season baseball games each season, most in HD, along with local high school football and basketball contests.

Competitive Strategy

William Geppert, VP and regional manager of Cox San Diego, says the Tech Solutions program, Pivot and the expansion of video-on-demand, high-definition and local programming are not isolated action. Together they are part of the system’s differentiation points, key weapons to be used against Cox’s competitors, a field that’s grown recently: AT&T premiered U-verse in portions of the city earlier this year, and Verizon is exploring a FiOS TV launch.

Bandwidth Expansion

Cox is working to build a technical backbone that can support its vast ambitions. The system will switch to 1 GHz capacity operation before the end of 2007, up from 750 MHz, using its existing plant infrastructure. Cox’s national next-generation infrastructure project, Extended Optical Network (EON), should also boost capacity. Other bandwidth expansion is being explored, including switched digital video and advanced compression.

If the Bandwidth Shoe Fits…

"It’s all about matching the next generation of infrastructure to the next generation of services cable will deliver," says Jay Rolls, VP of technology for Cox corporate. "We’re exploring and testing a lot of directions on every infrastructure aspect, and one thing we’re clear about is with bandwidth expansion, one shoe won’t fit everyone. It will be a cocktail-mix-type solution."

EON "will be the stage for the new products our audience will be engaged with over the next decade-plus," Geppert says.

Cox, Your Digital Friend at Mandalay Bay

It’s NCTA’s party, but Cox is setting the table, and is breaking out the expensive china. The MSO, which runs the cable system in Las Vegas, is serving as an unofficial co-host of The Cable Show and has invested time and money to put its best foot forward.

Cox has upgraded the plant inside the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in anticipation of countless high-definition displays and other presentations of advanced services. Cable Show exhibitors will be able to present their wares using Internet speeds up to 100 megabits, and attendees will be able to make wireless phone calls throughout the exhibit floor, as well as in the center’s Internet café and media facilities.

Cox Business Services’ unit in Las Vegas spent "just under six figures" to convert its plant inside the center from one-way 500 MHz to two-way 750 MHz over the last month, according to unit VP and general manager David Blau. As host operator, "we want to do everything we can to support the convention," he says. "It gives us the opportunity to talk up our services both to show attendees and the local business community."

After the show, Cox Las Vegas will try to strike deals with exhibitors at future conventions at the Mandalay Bay.

Will Cox duplicate this effort for the 2008 Cable Show in New Orleans? "Let’s wait and see what happens here first," says Steve Costa, business development and marketing VP for Cox Business Services in Las Vegas. — S.A.

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