Execs: HDTV a Gamble

Anaheim, Calif. -- HDTV can allow cable operators to win back high-end subscribers from direct-broadcast satellite firms, but cable also risks losing valuable customers if it doesn’t execute on rollouts of HDTV packages, top executives said Tuesday at a Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing conference here.

HDTV "is a double-edged sword," Comcast Corp. senior vice president Andy Addis said, noting that his MSO expects 2 million HD sets to be sold in its markets in 2004, and that "each one of those is a risk and a liability."

Comcast will look to pick up HD subscribers by broadly rolling HD packages to 90% of basic customers by the end of 2004. The MSO will also look to expand its retail presence and to educate subscribers about HDTV.

Cox Communications Inc. in Arizona is making the most aggressive moves at retail, as general manager Steve Rizley said it recently began hiring college students in Tucson and Phoenix to help sell Cox cable services at Best Buy Co. Inc. stores (one student sold 146 Cox services in one day).

One-half of Cox’s HD subscribers are new, suggesting that "these must be DBS win-backs," Rizley added.