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Cox ‘flareWatch’ Test Targets Cord-Cutters

Cord-cutters appear to be the prime target of a broadband-fed video service that Cox Communications is testing in California using a fancy new Internet protocol-only device and a slick user interface from a startup called Fanhattan.

Cox is offering its flareWatch service, which is hiding out in the open on a website dedicated to the test, only to broadband customers in Orange County, Calif., for $34.99 per month. Teamed with a cloud DVR, it will initially deliver 97 TV channels, including several local broadcast stations as well as such popular standbys as CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel, TBS, Food Network, TNT, USA Network, HGTV, Syfy, History, AMC, A&E and Bravo. A free VOD service featuring recently aired shows is “coming soon,” according to a flareWatch website.

Cox is delivering flareWatch to subscribers via Fanhattan’s IP-only Fan TV set-top and fl ashy user interface, a combo that gained some notoriety at the AllThingsD conference in May. The Atlanta-based MSO will offer up to three Fan TV devices for $99.99 each, plus Fanhattan’s button-less, touch-based remote control device. Fanhattan’s plan is to integrate an array of over-the-top video services, including Netflix and Hulu Plus, but none of those services are available in the initial phase of the Cox trial.

Cox is offering flareWatch only to its high-speed Internet customers in Orange County that subscribe to at least its Preferred tier, which delivers speeds of 10 Megabits per second downstream and 1 Mbps upstream for about $47 per month. FlareWatch is sold at five Cox Solutions retail outlets located in Irvine, Lake Forest , Rancho Santa Margarita and Laguna Niguel.

Cox’s broadband-TV test enters play as U.S. cable operators continue to lose video subscribers to telco and satellite rivals while also facing a small-but- growing cord-cutting trend.

Cox’s flareWatch test is also emerging as it and other cable operators brace for a clash with “virtual” MSOs such as Intel Media, which claims to be on track for launch later this year.

Cox didn’t detail the strategy behind flareWatch, but spokesman Todd Smith labeled the effort as a “small trial,” adding that “customer feedback will determine if we proceed with future plans.”

He also noted that the pricing for flareWatch is “in line” with the promotional price of the MSO’s expanded-basic subscription-video tier.

The MSO is promoting that tier, called Cox Advanced TV, for $34.99 per month for three months. Cox Advanced TV regularly sells for $63.99 per month and offers more than 300 channels.

The beta test also marks the first pay TV partner to be made public for Fanhattan, a startup that cut its teeth on a video search-and-discovery app for the iPad. Its box setup features a touch-based remote control and a user interface capable of blending live TV with OTT services. At its May coming out at the D11 conference in California, company CEO Gilles BianRosa stressed that Fan TV would not launch without a pay TV partnership in tow.

“As announced in May, Fanhattan plans to work directly with pay TV service providers to distribute Fan TV,” Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa said in a statement. “Making sure it’s ready for primetime requires rigorous testing, trial customer feedback and constant iteration. This limited trial is a small, early step in that direction.”

TAKEAWAY

Cox is testing flareWatch, an IP-only device from Fanhattan, a startup that plans to integrate over-the-top video with cable channels.