MSO Project Launch of the Year

The Freewheel Launch

Cablevision Systems Corp.

Since launching its low-cost, WiFi-exclusive phone service dubbed Freewheel, Cablevision has turned up solid returns and is making big waves across the industry.

“Cablevision was an early believer in WiFi, and we started to build our WiFi network in 2007, just as the first smartphones were being introduced,” says Cablevision COO Kristin Dolan. “A product like Freewheel not only capitalizes on Optimum WiFi, it enhances the value perception among consumers around this highly utilized network.”

The New York metro area’s predominant MSO launched Freewheel nationwide on Feb. 5. Available through Freewheel.com, the service provides unlimited data, talk and text through a Motorola Moto G smartphone connecting to a WiFi network. The first all-WiFi service introduced by a cable operator, Cablevision principally positions Freewheel as a next-gen connectivity offering that provides a faster data experience than higher-priced and slower cellular service.

The service functions anywhere around the globe where WiFi is accessible and automatically connects to Cablevision’s Optimum WiFi network of more than 1 million hotspots available across the New York tri-state area.

The MSO began building its Optimum WiFi network in highly trafficked areas like parks, main streets, sporting arenas and local businesses, even forming strategic partnerships with various local communities, park systems and transportation agencies. To that end, Cablevision has a public-private partnership with NJ Transit under which high-speed wireless has been deployed at more than 60 rail stations, while subsequent phases of the project will bring it to rail cars.

Cablevision’s WiFi innovation spurred other cable operators to build out their own WiFi networks within their service areas. Those efforts have resulted in the Cable WiFi consortium, a collaboration between Cablevision, Bright House Networks, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Comcast enabling MSO’s high-speed Internet customers to roam across the partner networks. In New York City, Cablevision teamed with Time Warner Cable to provide WiFi in 32 parks.

“Today, more than 80% of all Freewheel accounts are sold to Optimum three product customers,” says Dolan. “We’ve also seen a good response from customers using Freewheel outside of the U.S. as an international product.”

In addition to a major ad campaign at launch, Cablevision “most recently supplemented that campaign with longer form TV spots that highlight the value of Freewheel with specific use cases, such as first devices for kids or as an upgrade from a legacy flip phone,” says Dolan, noting that Freewheel is also being sold as part of “a new multi-product package targeted at cord cutters.”

Cablevision supplemented its advertising efforts with extensive outreach efforts, including social media and a Feb. 4 launch event at the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan, where celebrities and influencers engaged in demonstrations and a Freewheel-themed photo booth, and attendees received phones and one-year of service as parting gifts.

All told, the Freewheel media launch campaign generated some 1,200 news stories, which generated 2.6 billion impressions, and a total publicity value of $2.2 million. More important than the buzz and build-up, subscribers have been Freewheeling, with Dolan noting that Freewheel users are making and receiving more than 20 calls per week and sending or receiving nearly 70 text messages.

Looking ahead, Freewheel may expand its reach. The MSO is developing a Freewheel app that could bow before year-end.

Mike Reynolds

 

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