Cox Tests Broadband TV Tier in California

Cox Communications is testing a broadband-fed subscription TV service in California called flareWatch that appears to be tailored to so-called cord-cutters.

Asreported Friday by Variety, Cox’s pilot flareWatch service, offered only to Cox broadband customers in Orange  County, sells for $34.99 per month, and delivers a lineup of almost 100 live TV channels, including several local broadcast channels, CNN, ESPN, Disney, TBS, Food Network, TNT, USA Network, HGTV, SyFy, History Channel, AMC, A&E, and Bravo. That’s paired with a cloud DVR service. A free VOD service featuring recently aired shows is “coming soon,” according to a Web site Cox has set up to promote the beta version of flareWatch. 

Cox is delivering flareWatch to subscribers via Fanhattan’s IP-only Fan TV set-top and user interface, a combo that grabbed attention at the AllThingsD conference last month. According to the flareWatch site, Cox is offering up to three Fan TV devices at $99.99 each, plus Fanhattan’s button-less, touch-based remote control device.

The site also notes that the service is available only to Cox high-speed Internet customers in Orange County who subscribe to at least Cox’s Preferred tier, which delivers 10 Mbps downstream by 1 Mbps upstream for about $47 per month.

Cox is promoting flareWatch with the tagline: “Entertainment the way it should be.”

Cox is private and does not report subscriber figures. However, most incumbent MSOs are losing video subscribers to telcos and satellite TV providers 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 said last week it is on track to launch service later this year.

Cox didn't detail the strategy behind flareWatch, but spokesman Todd Smith labeled the effort as a “small trial,” and 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 on the MSO’s expanded basic subscription video tier. Cox, he added, is “just trying to attract some trial customers across multiple segments and test feedback.”

The MSO is selling flareWatch at five Cox Solutions retail outlets located in Irvine, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, and Laguna Niguel.

Smith added that, despite the trial, Cox is “clearly focused” on the MSO’s “personalized video experience,” which will encompass a tablet application and souped up IP-capable gateway from Cisco Systems that will pack six tuners and a DVR with 2 terabytes of storage. Cox expects to launch those this summer.

Cox has been leaning hard on the “Flare” brand. In April, the MSO launched a personal media management service in  California called “myflair” that lets users store digital pictures, video, music and documents in the cloud, and share and sync access of those files with authorized PCs and  Android and iOS devices starting at $4.99 per month.

The beta test also marks the first public pay TV partner for Fanhattan, a startup that got its start by developing a video search and discovery app for the iPad, but has followed up with an IP-only set-top, touch-based remote control and a user interface that aims to tie together pay TV services with over-the-top video. 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.

“Cox is running a limited trial in Orange County using an early version of Fan TV -- focused primarily on live TV and DVR,” Fanhattan CEO Gilles BianRosa said, in a statement. “ As announced in May, Fanhattan plans to work directly with pay TV service providers to distribute Fan TV. 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.”