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12:40 PM -- Cable operators are starting to take heed of predictions showing that they are in store for a healthy windfall of new basic video customers in front of the February 2009 digital TV transition. (See DTV Transition Could Catalyze Cable.)

The latest to take action is Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which is offering a tier of basic cable video services (typically 20 to 30 channels) for "free" when new customers sign up and combine it with the MSO's digital phone service or one of its Internet service tiers.

The "free" part doesn't last forever, though. It's good for 12 months. Customers who don't want Comcast's Internet or phone service can sign up for just the basic video tier for $10 per month… again, so long as they agree to a year-long contract. Comcast said current customers can add basic cable to additional TVs for no additional monthly fee.

Comcast unveiled the consumer play today to kick off a "Get Ready" for DTV campaign, which includes a dedicated Website:

Although consumers should be able to obtain over-the-air signals from local, full-power broadcasters after the transition date, using special digital-to-analog converter boxes, studies indicate many viewers could have trouble obtaining signals due to digital broadcast coverage "gaps." (See DTV Transition’s ‘Major Glitch’.) Most operators, Comcast included, are subject to a federal mandate that requires them to deliver analog and digital versions of stations that opt for "must carry" status. (See FCC OKs Dual TV Carriage Rules.) Some operators with limited subscribers or bandwidth, however, can take advantage of a special Federal Communications Commission (FCC) exemption. (See FCC Details Small Cable DTV Exemption.)

Knowing that some consumers may be worried that they'll have trouble accessing over-the-air (OTA) TV signals after the transition, some operators are launching campaigns tailored to this group. Mediacom Communications Corp. , as another example, is also offering a special bundle for OTA consumers, going as far as honoring government-issued digital converter coupons at face value. (See Mediacom Boosts Outlook, Preps DTV Tilt .)

Of course, how many new basic subs the DTV transition will bring cable's way is still anyone's guess. Some analysts suspect that MSOs are positioned to grab about 10 percent of the 14 million homes that still rely on OTA signals.

For its part, Comcast has estimated that between 6 million and 8 million people in its footprint currently get TV signals over the air, and that as many as 2 million of them won't be able to obtain OTA video signals after the transition. (See Comcast Rings the Telcos' Bell .)

Comcast is also taking advantage of the broadcast DTV transition to fuel an analog reclamation project, aiming to go "all digital" in 20 percent of its markets by year's end. (See Comcast Doctoring Digital in Detroit .) But instead of supporting that effort by deploying interactive (and expensive) digital set-tops everywhere, Comcast plans to supplement the initiative with simple, less expensive, one-way digital terminal adapters (DTAs). (See Comcast Confirms Digital Dongle Project and Comcast's DTAs: Security Optional .)

We understand that DTAs should start to show up in some of Comcast's Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)-based digital markets soon. We've asked Comcast to shed some light on the deployment timing, and we'll let you know what they tell us. In the meantime, please drop me a line posthaste if you've got word of those plans.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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