MSO Web Sites Reviewed: They Get It

They get it. They really get it. That's what a review of 23
Web sites produced by or for MSOs says about cable and the Web.

Among the trends: customized channel guides for each
system, with links to the increasing number of programming Web sites; detailed
troubleshooting instructions; "Cable in the Classroom" (CIC) areas; and online
customer-service-feedback forms.

Despite the accomplishments, most of the Web sites still
show considerable room for improvement. Only two -- Cablevision Systems Corp.'s and
Classic Cable's -- hit the ball out of the park in each of the five categories used as a
basis for the reviews: style, usability, content, customer service and business resources.

The sites were rated on a scale of one through five, with
five representing the best score. The score with each review represents the average of the
five areas mentioned above.

Adelphia Communications Corp.

Visit this site to find out about Adelphia's PowerLink
high-speed-data service or the company's finances, but don't expect to learn much about
its cable services. The most relevant pages may be "Digital Destinations" -- a
useful guide of links to programming Web sites -- and the site's feedback form. It's a
start, with lots of room for growth. [3.0]

Bresnan Communications

A snazzy site that's much more than good looks. The
easy-to-find, easy-to-use site index is one way to jump in if you're looking for a
specific item.

Bresnan offers a gateway to the National Cable Television
Association/Tech Corp.'s "Web Teacher" package, which was designed for K-12
teachers and students, but which is valuable to anyone who needs to learn more about being
a good Net consumer. Other offerings include an explanation of the "family-friendly
ratings" system, information about media literacy and a considerable amount about

The "Customer Kit" includes customer service, an
explanation of programming packages and troubleshooting for technical glitches. This spot
is also one of the few low points on the Bresnan site -- no programming guide, no channel
guide and no prices. A links page is in the works. Despite the shortcomings, this site
could be used as a model for operators that are looking at starting a Web site. [4.2]


Someone at CableAmerica likes moving parts. A twirling
"new" button and a marquee scrolling across the bottom may distract more than
they help. The front page is long and unwieldy. The main attraction is an image map of the
United States with CableAmerica's states highlighted.

Moving the navigation bar from the bottom to the first
screen of information would be a big plus. There are link pages for programming and the
cable industry, but not by system. The best item might be "Lake Cam," a view of
Lake Superior from the town of Eagle Harbor, Mich., which is updated every 15 minutes. It
airs continuously on Channel 43 in Eagle Harbor. This site is another good start that
could be an even better site in time. [2.6]

Cable TV of the Kennebunks

An animated cable line and a busy background make this site
a little tough to read. This site offers a potentially valuable service by allowing
subscribers to send in local-access bulletin-board announcements by e-mail.

Prospective advertisers can find considerable useful
information about ad sales and video-production services. There are plenty of nice
touches, too, like the programming index that lists channels by number and by subject; the
page of possible channel additions that asks for subscribers' input; and links organized
by topic. With only a couple of changes, this site could jump up several notches. [2.0]

Cablevision Systems Corp.

Cablevision's site is uncluttered and visually appealing.
The front page fits on one screen and provides multiple entry points.

Click on the Rainbow emblem, and the Rainbow Media Holdings
Inc. section quickly appears, with nuggets about each division or service and links to
those online. The site is easy to navigate, but jammed with readable information ranging
from consumer to corporate.

The technical-help section has good tips, but it also urges
customers with certain problems to call the Cablevision repair office instead of trying to
fix it themselves. Products, services and pricing are organized by system. Program
listings are customized through a link to Total TV's Web site (
Web-site manager Jennifer Thayer keeps a bulletin board of Cablevision news and events
under a "What's New?" heading, with links to more details. Cablevision also
sports a comprehensive e-mail directory that reaches throughout the company. [5.0]

Charter Communications Inc.

This site is easy to navigate, but some visitors may be put
off by the constantly changing images in its television screen. The program guide is a
work in progress. The customer-service information is detailed, and the "Charter
Zone" is like a clubhouse for subscribers with a message from the CEO, games and news
about Charter.

"Charter FAQs" [frequently asked questions] offer
troubleshooting and a cable glossary. If there's a feedback form for customers, it isn't
obvious, but it's better not to offer one if the system isn't in place to follow through.
Information about the business itself is not very deep. [3.2]

Classic Cable

The photo of a cable repairman that graces the front page
should dispel any negative images of the type propagated by Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill
Gates at a recent conference. Straightforward, this site can be viewed with older browsers
-- a plus for many consumers.

Graphically pleasing and extremely usable, the content
covers just about anything that a current or prospective subscriber needs to know.
Subscribers can even order service, upgrade services or report problems by e-mail. And
executive e-mail addresses are published. Links are divided by kids, cable-related, local
and teachers/parents. [5.0]

Coaxial Communications

Good intentions, but this site could use some editing.
Several parts are still under construction. The customer-service area provides lucid
answers and graphics for "What if?" woes. One page provides a list of
"Cable Saver Card" merchants, some with links to Coaxial ads about their

A navigation bar at the top makes it easy to move about the
site, but a Java applet caused several system crashes. A page called
"Production" is a collection of pictures with no text to explain the process.

Comcast Corp.

The designers are quite clear about this site's mission: It
is a corporate site, intended primarily for investor relations and human resources. It
fulfills that mission, but that's not enough in today's Internet world. Without an equally
useful consumer site, Comcast is only part of the way there.

A printable map shows Comcast locations, but, unlike those
on other cable-company sites, it is not a potentially more useful image map. It does have
links to other Comcast cable-related sites, but those sites offer little aimed at

The chief exception is the Comcast@Home pop-up page, which
leads to a consumer site for the company's cable-modem Internet service. Those pages look
nifty, with bold black, red and white graphics and text, but they loaded sluggishly at
24,000 baud and on an ISDN (integrated services digital network) connection. [3.4] (opens in new tab)

Cox Communications Inc.

The busy-looking Cox site is surprisingly pedestrian for a
corporation with its own interactive-media division.

A site doesn't have to be flashy, or even have lots of
bells and whistles -- in fact, that can detract from its mission -- but it can be designed
with a front page that fits on one screen instead of sliding just a little out of sight.

There's high-profile information on Cox@Home, the company's
high-speed Internet service; a feedback form; a fair amount of information by system; and
links to other Cox Web sites. You can learn more about Cox by watching a QuickTime movie
and by scanning a timeline about the corporate history.

There's a searchable press-release archive, plenty of
information about technology and clear signs that this is very much a work in progress.
Visitors can fill out a survey that will help Cox to develop its interactive online
customer-care area. Cox's Omaha, Neb., system appears to be a test site for the
password-secured technology. [4.3]

Harron Communications Corp.

Simple but well-organized and to the point, this site
offers consumers the incredibly useful service of system-specific channel guides with
appropriate programming links, including local channels, packaging and pricing information
for each system. The site uses the opportunity to provide a detailed comparison between
cable and satellite dishes with a special feedback form. This is a strictly
consumer-oriented site. [3.0]

Jones Intercable Inc.

Jones is developing a new Web site. Landing on the main
address for now brings up an offer for the MSO to send an e-mail notice when the new site
is ready, but the link to submit your name and address doesn't work. In the meantime, the
old index to the site still works --

Marcus Cable Co. L.P.

Memo to Webmasters and editors: If you're going to use
press releases on the front page of a Web site, make sure that they're current. This
frames-based site had a press release about an April 16 event leading the page 10 days
after the event in question. This could have been turned into an advantage by using a
picture of chairman and CEO Jeffrey A. Marcus actually performing service calls on the day
in question. And the newsletter archive hasn't been updated since the fall of 1997, but it
is still described as "latest."

The substantial corporate information includes a corporate
history, press releases dating back two years, promotions, special events and even a link
to the Securities and Exchange Commission's database of filings. Visitors can watch a
variety of Marcus commercials and promos, and they can use an image map to look for
contact information, job openings and channel guides by state, then use a pull-down menu
to select a specific system. The channel guides link to programming Web sites, and there's
a separate, well-organized links page. Interactive opportunities include feedback forms,
cable-modem-information request and service requests. [3.6]


This ambitious site has style and a good graphic look based
on a palette of blues and black, but the front page could be tighter for an easier read.
As the cursor passes over the site, the hover feature highlights different images and
provides an appropriate clickable menu.

Toward the bottom of the page, clicking on the question,
"What is Broadband?" brings up an almost evangelical but easily understood
explanation of broadband and its possibilities. Other links lead to introductions of
MediaOne services that tap into broadband.

Using a combination of image maps and search engines,
visitors can easily drill down to their system's pages, which include customized channel
lineups with links to relevant Web sites. Links in the address of an office lead to maps
with directions courtesy of Yahoo! Maps. The search engine is put to good use. For
instance, the directory of cable networks can be searched by name or subject. [4.2]

Media General Cable

Media General, like some of its competitors, starts with a
page that invites you to continue to the real page. Some sites use this screen to gently
nudge viewers to a version that works best with their browser, but that doesn't seem to be
the case here. This can be annoying.

Once inside (,
the site has a sleek, contemporary look. The customer-service area covers rates and
services, and it provides an e-mail address for customer-service correspondence.

Media General uses The Prevue Channel for its online
program guide, but it offers its own pay-per-view and premium highlights, too. The
"Service Guide" is easy to follow, as are the instructions for setting up a VCR
or troubleshooting. The "Service Checklist" could save subscribers a lot of down
time or phone time. Advertising subsidiary Mega Advertising Inc. has a strong online
presence, but obtaining a media kit or placing an ad still requires a phone call.
Financial information is easily accessible on the main corporate site. [4.2]

Prestige Cable

Prestige Cable offers a full menu of online fare.
Unfortunately, an effort to cram too many elements onto the front page slows down loading
and raises the risk of coding errors like the one that popped up during this review. The
value of the site would be enhanced by slimming down the front page and moving some of the
items to the vertical navigation bar on the left.

The feedback form includes instructions for reporting
someone who the writer thinks is stealing cable and links to the customer handbook.
Following directions to "click here" to visit the Web sites of favorite channels
brings up a list of links on the left-hand side -- a useful feature that also does a
little bit of damage by obliterating the navigation bar. The content is useful, including
channels and rates by system. [2.8]

Service Electric Cable

This site lives up to the word, "service," with
published e-mail addresses and phone extensions for every department and for most, if not
all, executives and midlevel managers or supervisors. Nothing fancy here -- just
no-nonsense links to useful information on-site and off. [3.4]

State Cable TV

State Cable's site opens with a welcome screen, then it
gets down to business. A particularly deft touch: As the cursor moves over the navigation
bar on the left, an explanation of each entry appears on a big TV screen on the right.

The advertising section is as detailed as some media kits,
with coverage maps, penetration, networks and demographics for each of State's seven
geographic areas. Filling out a brief online survey puts a prospective advertiser's name
in the pool for a free prize. [3.6]

Time Warner Cable

Nestled within the huge corporation's main site, the Time
Warner Cable site is fairly staid and linear, with a front page full of press-release
capsules and links to a three-year press-release archive.

The fact book was being updated, and it was unavailable
during the review. Financial offerings include annual reports (Warning: Some of the charts
are hard to read, even on a 16-inch screen), access to lots of white papers and links to
articles in corporate publications that relate to Time Warner.

The address list seemed incomplete, as did a useful but
unfinished list of links to Time Warner local-division sites. This site could and should
be much, much more. It would be aided by the judicious use of fast-loading image maps and
by a set of pages targeting consumers. [2.6]

TCA Cable TV Inc.

This site offers a good introduction to TCA Cable as a
business, but not a lot in the way of customer service. The financial data include
subscriber numbers and links to filings with the SEC.

A letter from the chairman explains the corporate
philosophy. The Internet division has a much more consumer-oriented site that could serve
as a model if TCA decides to build a more consumer-oriented addition to this site. [3.6]

Tele-Communications Inc.

Looks great. Less filling. The attractive graphics are
innovative, but much of the site is still under construction. Exceptions include pages
devoted to TCI Digital Cable, TCI.NET and @Home Network.

The "What's On" area is under development, as is
the customer-service component. Meanwhile, TCI is collecting concerns and comments by
e-mail. The corporate information includes biographies of the most senior executives,
links to filings in the SEC database and several years of press releases for various
subsidiaries. If this site ever fulfills its promise, it could be one of the best. [3.4]

Time Warner Communications

Time Warner corporate could learn a thing or two from the
designers of its Tampa Bay (Fla.) division's Web site. The clean, bright front page is
compact and elegant. The frame-based site thoughtfully offers low and heavy graphic
versions; the heavy one seems to make increased use of navigational tools.

Subscribers and potential subscribers can check system
status, channel guides, link to The Prevue Channel's program listings and see the full
menu of Time Warner's products and services, including prices. Consumers also can find
directions on how to hook up VCRs -- with graphics and the appropriate TV codes for each
of the system's remote controls. There's a feedback form, and the advertising-information
page comes with its own contact form.

The site contains lots of info about high-speed-data
service Road Runner, but no apparent links to corporate information and very few links to
cable-programming sites. Office hours, locations and phone numbers can be found via image
map. [4.0]

TKR Cable

The simple but fairly effective site is divided into three
areas: system information, business services and TKR's "Internet Shopping
Center." Advertisers can read detailed media kits online and can take advantage of a
program that meshes television advertising with a presence in the online mall. Customer
service is essentially limited to channel guides, phone numbers and addresses.

A "Schools on the Net" page offers links to the
schools that receive free service from TKR. [3.4]