Cable Independents: Local MSO Stays Ahead by Focusing on Service

Feb 28, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Anyone who thinks it’s the large multiple system operators that are driving cable innovation hasn’t visited Lawrence, Kan.

This community of more than 80,000 is home to the University of Kansas and Sunflower Broadband, a cable operator with 28,000 subscribers and a history of being ahead of the larger MSOs on a number of fronts.

Sunflower was one of the first systems to offer Home Box Office in the 1970s, to convert its cable plant to a two-way network (Sunflower did it in the 1980s; larger MSOs just completed their upgrades within the past couple of years) and to begin offering high-speed data services over cable modems starting in 1995. Amid all this, Sunflower has remained a fiercely local company, going so far as to launch in 1975 its own television station that focuses on local news, sports and events.

Today Sunflower offers all of the advanced features one would find at a larger cable operator-high-definition television, video-on-demand and telephony. Digital simulcast will be introduced soon.

The strategy of being out in front technologically and retaining a local focus harks back to the principles on which the company was founded in 1970 by members of the Simons family, which also owns the Lawrence Journal-World newspaper.

“The ownership of this company has always been committed to innovation and technology,” said Patrick Knorr, Sunflower’s general manager. “That has been the core philosophy of [Simons brothers] Dolph and Dan, and that has been combined with a very profound commitment to quality and serving the community.”

The company’s focus on service and localism is paying off. While many U.S. cable systems-both large and small-have been buffeted by satellite operators’ subscriber-building efforts, privately held Sunflower has remained the pay TV market leader in Lawrence, serving 75 percent to 80 percent of the community.