Cable’s Best HD Buy? Local Sales and Promos

By John P. Ourand

Comcast’s increased commitment to rolling out HDTV services becomes apparent the minute you step into a Best Buy franchise. One such store in Rockville, Md.–where Comcast runs a system–is plastered with Comcast’s signage. The store’s employees seem anxious to push the MSO’s products, particularly HDTV.

The mood in the store contrasts sharply from the mood a year earlier, when that same Rockville store seemed to be the exclusive realm of DirecTV.

That kind of turnaround with one of the country’s biggest consumer electronics chains is one of the reasons why programming executives picked Comcast as the MSO that was furthest along with HD, according to results from CableWORLD’s affiliate sales survey. Comcast executives consistently cite retail partnerships with chains such as Best Buy and Circuit City as a main reason why its HD product is becoming more popular.

“We are very aggressive on the retail front,” says Dave Watson, EVP, operations, for Comcast. “We have a coordinated approach with our retail and consumer electronics partners.”

That retail discipline can be found in the way Comcast offers HD to its subscribers. For an extra $5-per-month set-top charge, Comcast customers can get up to 15 channels of HD programming–a price point that is much more affordable than anything DirecTV or EchoStar can offer.

“Comcast doesn’t really charge additional amounts for its HD programming,” says Discovery’s president, affiliate sales and marketing Bill Goodwyn. “They use that for a big strategic advantage.”

That strategic advantage has helped Comcast deploy more than 1 million HD set-tops, booking a 143% jump in HD subscriptions from January 2003 to January 2004. HD channels have been rolled out to 94% of Comcast’s footprint.

Local, Local, Local

From its in-store displays to its programming promotions, Comcast stresses its local advantage as one of the main strengths behind its HD offering. “We’re taking advantage of local opportunities,” Watson says. “The big part of our thinking is to take advantage of your local competition.”

Nowhere is that more apparent than in the educational programs Comcast uses to address customer confusion surrounding hi-def. Watson cited one consumer survey showing that 40% of respondents thought they would get HD signals if they simply bought a set and plugged it in when they got home. They apparently had no idea that they needed to get service from a cable or satellite companies.

“We have to keep working at it,” Watson says. “The demand is there. We have to attack it fundamentally.”

Comcast is addressing this confusion by educating frontline employees about all things hi-def. “We have a unique advantage, and that’s having our troops in the marketplace doing the installs,” Watson says. “It’s extraordinarily important to have a local person.”

That educational process starts with CSRs (or, as Comcast calls them, CAEs–customer account executives). As the first line, not only can they educate consumers, they also help figure out whether to order a truck roll or not. The education process continues with installers, who need proper scripts to answer consumer questions that inevitably come up.

“When we roll a truck, we have to make certain that we send the right person who understands HD,” Watson says.

Pitching Promos

Partnering with programmers on promotions continues to play a big part in driving HD subscriptions. For example, Comcast set up promos with Samsung around the March Madness NCAA basketball tournament and Sony around the NFL.

Comcast has had notable success working with ESPN on HD promotions (ESPN has two HD channels, although Comcast only carries one). The two partnered on eight promotions in the last quarter of 2004, most revolving around ESPN’s Sunday Night Football NFL franchise.

ESPN was particularly pleased with an “Enter to Win” sweepstakes in the month before a Sunday Night Football game in Denver this fall. While exact numbers for that promotion aren’t available yet, David Preschlack, ESPN/ABC Cable’s SVP, national accounts, compares it to a December 2003 digital cable campaign Comcast launched with ESPN HD that also centered around Sunday Night Football. That campaign led to 20,000 digital adds during the time period, Preschlack says.

“It supports the value proposition for HD,” he says. “Comcast and Cox are ahead of the game. They’re savvy in terms of how to market [high definition].”

[Copyright 2005 Access Intelligence, LLC. All rights reserved.]

COPYRIGHT 2005 Access Intelligence, LLC.

COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group

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