CNN coverage spurs flood of new cable subscribers

January 18, 1991|By Leslie Cauley

Cable News Network's stellar performance in Baghdad this week -- it was the network with the most continuous live coverage when the shooting started -- is apparently having an unexpected impact on cable operators back home: a flood of new subscribers.

Stephen Burch, area manager of Comcast Cablevision of Maryland, said requests for new service have quadrupled over the past 24 hours. Many callers are specifically asking for CNN, which, as it turns out, is part of Comcast's basic package offering.

"Phone traffic has been extraordinary," Mr. Burch said.

According to Mr. Burch, January is usually a slow month for subscriber sign-ups because most people are still recovering from Christmas bills.

But CNN's high-profile coverage of the gulf crisis has helped change that, he said.

CNN's coverage is receiving accolades from all three major television networks, as well as top Defense Department officials.

At a nationally televised news conference in Washington Wednesday, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said, "The best reporting that I've seen on what transpired in Baghdad was on CNN," a production of Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting Inc.

"I imagine hearts sank at the other three broadcasting companies when they heard that," Mr. Burch said.

Many callers, he said, are "in a hurry" to get new service installed. As a result, Comcast is extending the work days of its installation crews to meet that demand, he said.

New service can be installed within two days, he said. Comcast's service areas include Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties.

The story was much the same at United Cable of Baltimore, which provides cable service in the city.

Gary MacGregor, director of marketing, said additional requests for new service were flooding United Cable's switchboard yesterday morning.

But he said it was still too early to say how many new subscribers had actually signed up.

"It's hard to quantify at this point, but we're certainly getting additional requests for service as a result of having CNN and Headline News," which is an abbreviated version of CNN, Mr. MacGregor said.

United can have new service installed within 48 hours, he said.

District Cablevision, the cable operator in Washington, also reported an increase in requests for new service.

Callers to District Cablevision who were put on hold yesterday didn't have to worry about missing out on developments -- they got an earful of CNN while waiting.

Ron Hopkins, director of marketing, said most callers yesterday were requesting CNN by name, indicating people are relying on CNN's coverage for news and information about unfolding events in the gulf.

"Colin Powell [chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff] as well as the Iraqi government is looking at CNN to see what's going on," observed Mr. Hopkins. "There seems to be a feeling that if you're watching CNN, you know as much as the people in charge do."

This isn't the first time District Cablevision has seen a surge in requests for CNN, Mr. Hopkins said.

In July, when Trinidad was under siege, the Embassy of Trinidad put in a rush order for CNN, he said.

"They wanted us to install cable in a hurry," Mr. Hopkins said. "They wanted to get CNN so they would know what was happening in Trinidad."

Americans' renewed interest in CNN was not lost on investors, where analysts yesterday were predicting a positive financial fallout for Turner Broadcasting as a result of CNN's most recent round of high-profile coverage.

Ian Burnham of First Boston in New York City said it was still too early to say how CNN's gulf coverage would affect Turner Broadcasting over the long run, but he said early indications are that the effect is "obviously positive."

Frederick A. Moran of Moran & Assoc. Inc. of Greenwich, Conn., however, said the payback to Turner would be more immediate.

"This is going to have a very positive effect on the company," said Mr. Moran. "CNN will now get the additional recognition that it clearly deserves."

Mr. Moran predicted additional cable television companies would now want to buy the service, prompted by calls from consumers who want to subscribe to the service.

Mr. Moran said he decided yesterday to subscribe to CNN in his office as a result of CNN's coverage of the war.

"This is going to provide the investment community with some visibility so . . . investors may begin to recognize what an outstanding investment Turner Broadcasting is," he said.

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