The Cox mini-box.
Cox Communications is changing the way it delivers television signals to some of its Louisiana customers. After a three-month transition period, customers will need a digital converter for each TV that now receives a range of analog channels directly through a coaxial cable.
Cox estimates that 20% of his subscribers are analogue only. Others have digital cable service – to a primary TV, for example – but have analog cable to secondary stations; these customers will need converters on the secondary stations.
The company does not have a tracking mechanism to count the analog users of the secondary set, said Bruce Berkinshaw, Cox chief marketing officer. He estimates that 50% of his digital subscribers will need some new box to continue using these TVs.
âIt could be half of our digital customers,â he said. “We don’t have any network intelligence on this.”
Cox said he would provide digital “mini-boxes” to analog cable users – some free for five years. Ultimately, these will carry a monthly rental fee of $ 2.99, the company said.
Customers who are currently subscribed to the Cox “Starter Analog” package will receive two free mini-boxes for two years. If the Starter Analog customer is a Medicaid recipient, it’s two free for five years.
âEssential Analogâ customers are entitled to two free mini-boxes for one year. Digital customers are entitled to a free mini-box for one year.
Additional mini boxes have a monthly charge of $ 2.99. This applies to customers of all plans after their free usage period has expired.
Current Cox customers who receive their cable signals through CableCARD-enabled TVs won’t need a mini box, Berkinsaw said. âFor customers with digital receivers on their televisions, they don’t have to do anything,â Berkinshaw said. âThey won’t even see that as a problem.
“Any television connected directly to a wall plate will need some type of device to receive the channels.”
The transition, which is expected to be completed early next year, reflects a national trend, said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based cable industry analyst. âCox, along with Comcast and Time Warner and Charter, are all heading into this same digital universe,â Kagan said. âThere are many benefits to this digital product, but you are also losing others. Depending on who you are, you are going to like it or you are not.
âCustomers who want all the new features, who want all the new technology, will love it. Customers who are happy with their regular cable TV won’t like it. The reason they won’t like it is (that) costs more to have a box on every TV.
Berkinshaw said the new perks delivered through the mini-box include:
- Extended channel lineup (including Golf Channel, SEC Network and Fox Business) compared to analog service
Eliminating analog signals will also free up bandwidth which now uses around 40% of Cox’s capacity, Berkinshaw added. The bandwidth gain after the transition will allow the company to increase Internet speeds for its cable modem customers and to add more high-definition television channels to its plans.
Access to many of these new channels, as well as on-demand movies and delayed network programming, will not be possible with a mini box. Instead, it will require a different – and more expensive – rented digital box.
Cox operates in 17 parishes in Louisiana and is the primary cable provider for the New Orleans area south of Lake Pontchartrain. It serves around 200,000 local households.
The company is the third-largest cable television provider in the United States, with approximately 6 million total customers for its television, internet and telephone services. All of Cox’s markets across the country are undergoing analog-to-digital transition, some predating Louisiana.
Mini-boxes, which are about the size of two stacked cell phones, can be obtained from Cox customer service centers, ordered online at Cox.com/GoAllDigital or by calling 844.239.2224. The units come with a 24-page installation instruction manual and all necessary connection hardware. Cox has also posted installation and instruction tutorials on YouTube.
Customers can request professional installation for $ 39.99. âWe find that a large majority of our customers install themselves,â Berkinshaw said.
For current analog customers, the transition period will mean a gradual decrease in the channels they see until they get a new mini box or a more advanced digital box. âWe call them peelbacks,â Berkinshaw said. “We’re switching about a dozen channels at a time from analog to digital.”
Transition information screens will replace the lost analog channels. Cox will also schedule on-screen information “explorations” as the transitional peelbacks, which are set to begin in October, unfold.
The peel-back approach aims to educate analog cable users about the transition underway and also prevent sudden signal failure for tens of thousands of customers. At least one other cable operator has tried the steep approach in its analog phase-out program, Berkinshaw said.
âWe don’t think this is the best customer experience,â Berkinshaw said. “We think (peel-backs) are, for lack of a better term, a gentler way to do it.”
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Contact Dave Walker at email@example.com or 504.826.3429.