NEW YORK — Cox Communications, the fifth-largest cable operator in the U.S., has launched its first digital-programming package, funneling up to 100 new channels to subscribers in Orange County.The new service, called Cox Digital TV, kicks off today to the 14,500 homes in Aliso Viejo. Cox will draw some of the digital programming from John Malone’s HITS (an acronym for Headend in the Sky). But Cox is also bypassing HITS and dealing directly with such high-visibility digital program providers as HBO, Discovery, Showtime and Encore. The Cox marketing plan groups 25 of the networks into four broad categories: Movies (including Independent Film Channel and Sundance), Sports & Info (CNNfn, Golf Channel), Variety (Country Music TV, Game Show Network) and Discovery (the four digital networks made up of shows from the Discovery Channel’s inventory). The Cox subscriber who ponies up an additional $10.95 a month gets all of these 25 channels, plus access to more than 40 channels of pay-per-view movies (each movie rental costs the subscriber an extra $3.95), 40 audio-only digital music channels and the six channels of Your Choice TV, which offer multi-runs of time-shifted episodes — for people who miss the first telecast — of such regularly scheduled ABC TV series as “Ellen,” “20/20,” “Primetime Live,” and the soap operas “General Hospital,” “All My Children,” “One Life to Live” and “Port Charles.” Other time-shifted programming on Your Choice TV includes ESPN college football and college basketball, HBO original movies and National Geographic specials. And for subscribers who already pay the monthly fee for HBO, Showtime or Starz, Cox’s digital package provides the multiplexed channels of the pay networks as a free add-on. For example, there are eight different HBO channels, which present the same monthly lineup of HBO programs, time-shifted like Your Choice TV. The strategy is similar to an eight-theater multiplex that’s showing the same movie in staggered start times. Cox has rejected a number of cable networks that HITS has signed up, including ESPN News, Playboy, Turner Classic Movies, Classic Sports Network, CBS Eye on the People and Spice. One source says these networks didn’t make it to Cox because they were asking too much money or their content was a problem. In content, for example, Spice’s pushing of the sexual boundaries gave Cox pause, and ESPN News seemed redundant because Cox has included another 24-hour sports-news channel, CNN/SI. Following Aliso Viejo, Cox plans to roll out the digital service to a number of other Orange County communities by the end of the year, including Mission Viejo, Lake Forest, Rancho Santa Margarita, Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, San Clemente and Dana Point.
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