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Cox Reports Heavy Interactive TV Usage

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LR Cable News Analysis
Light Reading

ATLANTA -- Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies -- Even though just 10 percent of Cox Communications Inc. ’s subs have access to the MSO's full suite of interactive TV applications, including caller ID to the TV, the MSO says it's seeing heavy usage from that group.

Cox currently counts about 415,000 ITV-enabled subscribers, senior vice president of video strategy and product management Steve Necessary said here last week. That figure doesn’t include subscribers who can view interactive advertising overlays powered by Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)’s Navic Networks unit. (See Microsoft Nabs Navic .)

The ITV-enabled subscribers -- located in Orange County, Calif., Cleveland, and the Gulf Coast region -- represent less than 10 percent of the 5.2 million basic video subscribers that Cox counted at the end of 2009.

But Necessary said subs that do have access to ITV are using the product more often than video-on-demand, with 68 percent of eligible customers accessing the operator's main ITV menu in May.

“That’s better usage than we get on video-on-demand, and video-on-demand [usage] is pretty great. In terms of access and usage, it’s pretty darn remarkable,” Necessary said during a panel discussion focused on interactive TV.

Cox offers 14 interactive TV applications, ranging from caller ID to the TV to interactive news and weather reports.

Cox also has ITV applications that allow subscribers to view email, pay their bills, upgrade to premium services, and check out lottery results and movie previews. It offers three interactive "Zone" mosaic guide channels that allow subscribers to view multiple news, sports, and kids channels on a single screen.

For customers who subscribe to both digital cable and Cox’s digital telephone service, the caller ID to the TV product displays a banner overlay on the lower third of the subscriber’s TV screen when a call is received. When caller ID to the TV is fully deployed, Cox expects that it will generate 3.1 million caller ID banner displays daily, 21.4 million weekly, 92.8 million monthly, and 1.1 billion annually, according to a chart Necessary showed attendees during his presentation.

Necessary was enthusiastic about the benefits of standards and open platforms such as Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) and tru2way. He suggested that earlier cable industry attempts at interactive TV from companies such as Wink Communications and WorldGate Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: WGAT) failed early on because they relied on proprietary technology. WorldGate, a cable ITV pioneer, is now a videophone company. OpenTV Corp. (Nasdaq: OPTV) ended up with Wink. (See Goodbye, Hal! and WorldGate Update .)

"We are huge supporters of EBIF and tru2Way because it does finally provide a ubiquitous environment for application development and deployment," he said.

Cox has its all its headends upgraded to tru2way as it gets ready to launch a premium video tier that leans heavily on the platform. It's in the process of porting its existing interactive apps to the EBIF platform, according to Cox's executive director of video product development, Lisa Pickelsimer, who delivered a keynote here earlier in the day. (See Cox Trots Out Tru2way Guide and Cox Guides Tru2way Forward.)

— Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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