Cox Targets Cord-Cutters With Internet TV Test in Southern California (Exclusive)

Operator offering beta version of lower-priced flareWatch service with 97 channels, cloud DVR service and Fan TV set-top

Digital Editor, New York@xpangler

Cox Communications is the first major U.S. pay TV operator to explicitly aim at cord-cutters, launching a test of a lower-priced TV and cloud DVR service in Orange County, Calif., delivered over its broadband pipes.

The operator’s flareWatch service is $34.99 per month, with access to 97 live channels and 30 hours of network DVR storage. The service is currently available to Cox broadband subscribers in the Orange County market.

The flareWatch service is part of “a small trial” in the area, according to Cox spokesman Todd Smith. “Results and customer feedback will determine if we proceed with future plans,” he said.

The Cox Internet TV service uses Fanhattan’s Fan TV set-top, which provides iPad-like navigation via a touch-sensitive remote control that has no buttons. Subscribers can connect up to three Fan TV boxes, which cost $99 each, to the service. While it’s unlikely that Cox or any other pay-TV provider will adopt the approach to deliver their primary TV services, Fan TV and similar boxes could find a home on the Internet streaming front.

FlareWatch does not provide access to over-the-top streaming-video services, such as Hulu or Netflix.

“Finally, a simpler, easier way to get the entertainment you love,” Cox says in a promo for the service.

Cord-cutting has been a growing concern among pay TV providers, which risk losing price-sensitive video subscribers who instead opt for free, over-the-air TV and cheaper streaming options like Netflix.

SEE ALSO: Top Wall Street Analyst: Pay TV “Cord-Cutting Is Real”

One of the key attributes of Cox’s flareWatch is that it delivers a healthy mix of popular programming but at a lower price than traditional cable TV packages.

Beta version of flareWatch provides local broadcast TV and cable nets such as ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, Disney Channel, ABC Family, Fox Sports West, TWC SportsNet, CNN, CNBC, Nickelodeon, A&E, Discovery, Bravo, USA, TLC, MTV, Fox News Channel, FX, Food Network and Syfy. About 60 of the channels are in HD, according to Cox.

Ordinarily, to get most of those channels, subscribers must purchase Cox Advanced TV service with 300-plus channels, regularly priced at $63.99 per month.

Cox does offer a $24.99-per-month TV Economy package, but that excludes regional sports nets and most of the cable channels in the flareWatch lineup. Nets available in TV Economy include CNN, Nickelodeon, Discovery, History, Fox News, Food Network and USA.

While it is experimenting with Internet-delivered television, Cox is more focused on rolling out the personalized Trio video guide across all its markets along with a related tablet app for in-home streaming video, set to launch later this summer, according to Smith.

Cox’s Flare brand also includes “MyFlare,” a cloud-based media storage service the operator launched in April for hosting personal photos, videos, music and documents. Future offerings in the Flare family are slated to include streaming music and games, according to the MSO.

Privately held Cox is the third-biggest U.S. cable operator, with an estimated 4.5 million video customers.

Cox is providing demos of flareWatch at its five retail Solutions Stores in Orange County, according to the operator’s website.

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