The Cox mini-box.
Cox Communications is changing the way it provides television signals to some of its Louisiana customers. After a three-month transition period, customers will need a digital converter box for each television set which now receives a range of analogue channels directly via coaxial cable.
Cox estimates that 20% of its subscribers are analog-only. Others have digital cable service – on one primary TV, for example – but have analog cable on secondary TVs; these customers will need converter boxes on the secondary assemblies.
The company does not have a tracking mechanism to count secondary set analog users, said Cox chief marketing officer Bruce Berkinshaw. He estimates that 50% of his digital subscribers will need some new box to continue using these televisions.
“That could be half of our digital customers,” he said. “We don’t have network intelligence on this.”
Cox said it will provide digital “mini-boxes” to analog cable users – some free for five years. Eventually, these will incur a monthly rental fee of $2.99, the company said.
Customers who currently subscribe to Cox’s “Starter Analog” package will receive two mini-boxes free for two years. If the Starter Analog customer is a Medicaid recipient, it’s two free for five years.
“Essential Analog” 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 incur a monthly fee of $2.99. This applies to customers on all plans once their free usage period expires.
Current Cox customers who get their cable signals through CableCARD-enabled TVs won’t need a mini-box, Berkinsaw said. “For customers with digital receivers on their TVs, there’s nothing they need to do,” Berkinshaw said. “They won’t even see that as a problem.
“Any TV connected directly to a wall plate will need some type of device to receive channels.”
The transition, which is expected to complete early next year, reflects a national trend, said Jeff Kagan, an Atlanta-based cable industry analyst. “Cox, along with Comcast, Time Warner and Charter, are all heading into this same digital universe,” Kagan said. “This digital product has many advantages, but you also lose others. Depending on who you are, you are going to like it or not.
“Customers who want all the new features, who want all the new technology, are going to love it. Customers who are happy with their old cable TV won’t like it. The reason they won’t like it is (that ) costs more to have a box on each TV.”
Berkinshaw said new benefits provided through the mini-box include:
- Extended channel range (including Golf Channel, SEC Network and Fox Business) compared to analogue service
Eliminating analog signals will also free up bandwidth that currently uses about 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 add more high-definition television channels to its packages.
Access to many of these new channels, as well as on-demand movies and time-shifted network programming, will not be possible with a mini-box. Instead, you’ll have to rent a different – and more expensive – digital box.
Cox operates in 17 Louisiana parishes and is the primary cable company in the New Orleans area south of Lake Pontchartrain. It serves approximately 200,000 local households.
The company is the third-largest cable television provider in the United States, with approximately 6 million customers in total for its television, Internet and telephone services. All of Cox’s markets across the country are undergoing the analog-to-digital transition, with some preceding Louisiana.
Mini boxes, which are about the size of two stacked cell phones, can be obtained at Cox customer service centers, ordered online at Cox.com/GoAllDigital or by calling 844.239.2224. Units come with a 24-page installation instruction manual and all necessary connecting hardware. Cox has also posted installation and instruction tutorials on YouTube.
Customers can request professional installation for $39.99. “We find that a large majority of our customers are self-installing,” Berkinshaw said.
For current analogue 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. “We call them peel-backs,” Berkinshaw said. “We are moving about a dozen channels at a time from analog to digital.”
Information screens on the transition will replace the analog channels that have disappeared. Cox will also schedule informative on-screen “crawls” as the transitional peel-backs, which are expected to begin in October, unfold.
The peel-back approach aims to raise awareness among analog cable users of the impending transition and to avoid a sudden signal outage for tens of thousands of customers. At least one other cable company has tried the steep approach in its analog elimination program, Berkinshaw said.
“We don’t think it’s the best customer experience,” 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 protected] or 504.826.3429.