Adelphia, Sabres Add Wink to Telecasts

Through an internal partnership with its Buffalo, N.Y.-based Empire Sports Network and the National Hockey League's Buffalo Sabres, Adelphia Communications Corp.'s Western New York systems will be the first to receive Wink Communications Inc.-enhanced regional sports content.

Adelphia digital-cable customers in the region already can access static sports statistics via Empire. Late this month, though, the channel plans to add two-way interactive features through which fans can order hockey tickets or buy Sabres merchandise.

Viewers will also be able to call up more detailed game-related data, such as a team's scoring history or a player's career biography.

To help drum up interest in the free Empire Enhanced service, Sabres television announcers will promote the new features on-air during hockey games. Adelphia will also support the rollout with television spots and direct mail to Sabres season ticket holders.

Adelphia's three main objectives in launching Empire Enhanced are to retain current digital-cable customers, encourage analog-only subscribers to upgrade, and curtail competition from direct-broadcast satellite providers, said John Cimperman, Adelphia's regional vice president of marketing and executive vice president of the Sabres.

The cable operator made a deliberate decision to keep Empire Enhanced off satellite.

In western New York, more than 25 percent of Adelphia's cable subscribers are digital customers, and the operator's goal is to increase that figure to 30 percent by the end of the year.

"Applications like this will bring more people into the digital fold," Cimperman predicted, noting that the new features target sports fans, rather than the movie fans that may have already signed up for digital to get additional premium and pay-per-view channels.

Asked whether Empire Enhanced will help drive revenues for Adelphia, Cimperman replied, "There's revenue in keeping customers happy." In addition to helping to drive digital cable, Empire Enhanced will provide the MSO with electronic-commerce opportunities. The company also plans to integrate sponsors and advertisers onto the service in a later phase of the launch, Cimperman said.

"The usage out of the gate will be very important for us to measure as we move forward" with other regional sports partnerships, said Wink executive vice president of business development and sales Melinda White. "We'll get lots of good information about commerce locally."

Wink will receive a cut of all e-commerce sales derived from the enhanced service under a standard revenue-sharing agreement.

Cimperman said Buffalo's recent heavy snowfalls have not impeded the Empire Enhanced rollout.

"The good news is, the more snow we have, the more people stay home and watch hockey," he said.