While some larger operators are still trying to get their ducks in a row to launch skinny bundles, Cincinnati Bell made headlines in 2016 for its launch of MyTV, with the starter bundle retailing for $30 a month.
“It was really our desire to offer more flexibility to our customers” that brought about the launch, says Michael Morrison, director of content & consumer product marketing strategy. “Historically there has been a $20 option, which is just basically anything free over-the-antenna—and then your next option is 65 or 75 bucks. So, we really built this to fill in that huge gap between 20 bucks and 70 bucks—and offer customers more flexibility. Customers have responded well to it.”
But if you think Cincinnati Bell only impressed us with its willingness to weigh in to flexible packaging waters, you’d be mistaken. When Cincinnati Bell purchased the city of Lebanon, Ohio’s telecommunications system in 2007, it served 4,000 customers. Today it has 120,000. Management credits that growth with the launch of its fiber to the home product, Fioptics. “Our biggest challenge is not being able to build fiber our fast enough,” says Morrison.
By year-end, the operator expects to have fiber available to about 60 percent of the Cincinnati area and 65 to 70 percent by the end of 2017. Just this past June, the Fiber to the Home Council Americas awarded Cincinnati Bell with its Star Award, which recognizes a person, community or company that has gone above and beyond what is expected in the advancement of fiber to the home. “The reason why fiber buildout is so important to us is that we want to own the customer experience in the home through delivering the speeds required to support our Fioptics products, or to support other connected products the customer is enabling in the home,” explains Christi Cornette, svp, corporate marketing for Cincinnati Bell.
Growing those relationships has required some creativity. Last year, the operator launched its “Connect Cincinnati” app, which let users access free WiFi in public venues. But to get the free Internet, they must download the app. In turn, the app connects users with local businesses who use it to offer coupons, promotions and contests. Cincinnati Bell customers who sign into the app get additional deals and offers. “At this point, we have 80,000 users on the app with 60 percent of those return users. We’re pretty excited about that,” says Cornette. “We have about 200 businesses on the app today and a significant backlog of people waiting to get on.”
Instead of waiting for larger operators to blaze a path, it’s in Cincinnati Bell’s DNA to lead. “Because we are small, we have to think outside the box.” says Cornette.
It’s now facing a new competitor with Charter’s acquisition of Time Warner Cable. And while Morrison doesn’t discount Tom Rutledge and team as a worthy competitor, he expects Cincinnati Bell’s nimbleness to give it the advantage. “One edge independent operators have is they can get hyper-focused in the areas they serve,” Morrison says. “That’s how we approached competing with Time Warner, and how we’ll approach competing with Charter.”