TWC Suite of Services Rolls Out

Jun 13, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Time Warner Cable launched a suite of interactive television applications late last month in its South Carolina division, marking the first introduction of what will become a companywide rollout of ITV starting later this year.

The package of applications is free to consumers and includes caller ID on the TV, a service that’s been cited by numerous cable executives in speeches and at trade shows as a “killer application” of phone and cable convergence. Time Warner offers digital phone service in all 31 of its markets, and the South Carolina ITV launch is one of the first introductions by a cabler of caller ID on the TV set.

The ITV rollout is also significant because it’s been widely expected that cable operators would need to get serious about the interactive space, given how satellite operators have attacked the ITV opportunity aggressively this year, with both EchoStar and DirecTV rolling out slates of interactivity. Time Warner’s entrance is also the first move by one of the top two multiple system operators-Time Warner and Comcast-to introduce what will be a companywide interactive package to counter the competitive threat.

“It’s staying ahead of the competition, which had made a lot of [strides],” said Dan Santelle, VP of marketing for Time Warner Cable in the South Carolina division. “We are stepping up in terms of making all that happen. … We are in the business with some pretty capable competitors.”

In addition to retention, Mr. Santelle said, he also believes the ITV suite can drive acquisition and possibly draw some customers away from satellite. “This is the next generation of innovation that delivers on what our customers are asking for-more choice, control and convenience.”

In addition to caller ID, the ITV suite includes impulse buying for premium channels. That means a viewer can order HBO or Showtime simply by using the remote control and without the need to place a phone call to make the purchase.

Other applications include customizable news content, accessible through an enhanced navigation menu called the Access Menu. Users can configure the main portal for the ITV suite to display information in pods, such as news, local weather and other headlines. On the Access Menu, consumers can also see a quarter-size video feed of whatever channel they are tuned to as well as the information pods. ITV technology provider Broadband Interactive Applications powers that portion of the service.

Viewers can also use the Access portal to navigate through neighborhoods of content, Mr. Santelle said. The Access Menu includes a listing for kids, sports, on-demand and other content, he said. When a viewer clicks on one of those categories, he or she is transported to the first of the channels in the “neighborhood.”

Time Warner counts about 350,000 customers in its South Carolina division, and Mr. Santelle said the ITV suite is available to a little more than half of those customers now. The remainder will receive the service over the next several months, as the operator also begins its rollout to other systems.

In about eight to 12 weeks, the system will add the next set of services: ITV games. That will include about eight to 10 at a time, such as parlor games and trivia games that rotate on a monthly basis. Some of the games will be subscription-based.

Conservative Approach

Cablevision also offers ITV games on a subscription basis. Insight offers games as a value-added service to its digital cable customers.

Time Warner is also striking deals with cable programmers so that it can add short clips of content, of around 30 seconds to 2 minutes in duration, in the Access portal as well. Mr. Santelle said such “Quick Clips” could include local weather forecasts served up on-demand, or news stories that consumers can request.

Time Warner declined to disclose the investment it’s making in the new ITV suite, but Mr. Santelle said the operator is able to leverage the investment Time Warner has made over the last several years in new technology like video-on-demand and digital phone to make the ITV services possible.

Within the first week of offering the service, Mr. Santelle said “a surprising number” of customers had configured and customized the screen settings for the Access Menu. While he would not reveal the number, he said it was higher than expected.

The Time Warner South Carolina system will be the blueprint for the rest of the company. It’s fitting because the division was the first cable market to launch HBO’s subscription VOD service in July 2001.

While Time Warner has deployed interactive advertising in a few markets, the Access package does not include ITV ads.

Ben Mendelson, president of the Interactive Television Alliance, said cable operators are likely to pursue a measured, conservative approach to rolling out ITV services, by offering them on a trial basis in a market or two before introducing them company-wide and layering on additional services. He believes advertiser involvement in any form of ITV will be critical to the success of the industry.