Mitchell Christopher, vice president of technical operations, Time Warner Cable
After introducing IntelligentHome in Southern California, the Carolinas and Upstate New York less than two years ago, Time Warner Cable (TWC) will spend 2013 rolling out the life safety and home automation product suite across the nation. The professionally installed and monitored system offers remote connection to thermostats, lights, video feeds and more. The cable operator’s Mitchell Christopher, vice president of technical operations, joins the conversation to discuss the service offering and his view of the marketplace.
How is IntelligentHome being marketed?
We’ll be announcing it to customers in the major markets through traditional methods, such as billing inserts, E-mail blasts, fliers and direct mail. We also have cross channel advertising that will run on TV. We’ll pretty much hit all of our traditional marketing tactics.
The customer is offered a litany of products upfront. They are packaged. Our basic package consists of door/window sensors, motion detector, touchscreen. Then you move up to the next package and get additional door and window sensors and smoke detector. Then our Ultra package introduces thermostats and lighting control. You can add a la carte, even to the basic package, the lighting control, smoke detection, carbon monoxide detection, cameras — all of that can be added to the smallest systems.
IntellignentHome is not TWC’s first foray into home security. What services has the company provided previously?
We’ve been in the traditional security business for 18 years, but it has only been offered on the East Coast. It is residential burglary and fire. We have our own installation service team. Our central station is located in Syracuse, N.Y. It also has been in operation for about 18 years and has a Five Diamond rating with the Central Station Alarm Association [CSAA].
Many in the traditional security space wonder if telecom/cable providers can sustain the level of customer service necessary to succeed in this market? Your thoughts?
We are aggressively pursuing our service approach to all of our customers in general. For example, in a lot of markets we are rolling out one-hour appointment windows versus your traditional two-hour to four-hour or half-day appointment schedule. From a service standpoint we are very serious about getting to the customer quickly, which certainly from a security standpoint when they have a problem they want to correct it right away. We have that approach across the business. We are very focused on our performance metrics, even getting systems installed for new customers as quickly as they need them.
Telecom/cable providers in years past have attempted to enter the home security market without much success. Why is now the right time?
It is a combination of factors. Offering security services in the past was basically a separate offering. Security wasn’t tied to the existing products or network. With the new products we have now, it is fully integrated into our existing network. It is just an extension of what we are doing versus a departure. Then there are the additional services that can be added to complement security and complement the other things the customers are interested in.
A lot of our customers are not only using it for traditional burg and fire detection, but also just being able to check in at home … if you have an elderly parent; if you have a pet; if your kids come home from school at a certain time and be able to see them, to be able to receive text or E-mail messages when an event happens or when you expect it to happen. Not only is it information going to the monitoring center, it is going to you directly and immediately.
Will TWC’s existing sales force also handle selling IntelligentHome packages?
Yes. We do provide our salespeople with the training. It is a longer sales conversation because you are not just talking about entertainment anymore. You have to get more information about the customer’s lifestyle, their coming and going, and really trying to design a system that caters to their specific needs.
Does TWC contract with independent installing security providers to install IntelligentHome?
We are focused on providing the services ourselves. Specifically because the product is integrated into our existing network, so we are utilizing the broadband network into the home. It is really expanding the capabilities of our existing tech force.
What additional services does TWC see as viable add-ons to the IntelligentHome offering moving forward?
Certainly health services — personal emergency response and medical alert. Additional cameras, additional communication devices from the standpoint of what does the customer want to see remotely. You want to be able to provide detection in the home through some devices, but also provide communication and information. What those needs are as far as medical information, being able to look in on your property. In our Palm Springs area you have a lot of people who are seasonal residents. That’s a great opportunity for visibility into your property when you are away from it.
IntelligentHome is based on the iControl platform, which is also used by Comcast, ADT and others. Is the product suite differentiated from other providers using the same platform?
Yes, because different companies have different expectations and ideas of what goes on in their marketplace. We all tailor our offerings to our customer base. While we all use the same platform, how we bundle it, what services we offer, that varies based on the organization. It’s not just about burg and fire detection. It’s molding the product to your life and what’s going on.
Is interactive services being counted on to replace lost revenues due to the cable industry losing TV subscribers during the past few years?
It’s not really replacing anything. It is really just adding on to our existing offerings to meet the customers’ new needs and our capability to satisfy those needs. With the integration of IntelligentHome into our core products and utilizing the broadband network, it just extends the ability for us to provide more services to the customer. Because we are using the existing network, certainly there are economies of scale associated with that so there is a cost-savings for us and the customer.
You see a number of industry studies all talking about greater interest in home automation. At the same time, you see the technology really improving and becoming reasonably priced and also the technology evolving to a point where it is easily integrated into a broadband network. As well, our customers are very interested in the bundling of services to receive one bill. You look at technology. You look at pricing. All of those things combined together really create a viable opportunity.