WOW! splashes into the Columbus market, bidding Knology adieu

Denver company plans to pump money into market to upgrade to all-digital network

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 4, 2013 

As the Knology name is retired Tuesday, customers initially should not notice much more than the new brand that is replacing it — WOW! — said Colleen Abdoulah, the company’s chairwoman and chief executive officer.

From there, however, the Denver-based cable operator has its sights on both improving the customer experience on all levels, while also pumping money into the Columbus market to upgrade infrastructure that, over time, will bring new and faster products and services.

“What we’re excited about is we’re going to be putting in tens of millions of dollars into each individual market to upgrade it to an all-digital platform,” the cable executive said. “That will open up more bandwidth so that we can offer more (high-definition) channels. We can offer higher speeds, and eventually offer an (Internet protocol) platform like we have at WOW!, which we call the ultra-TV product.”

It literally is a whole-home DVR system that allows a big family to watch six different shows on separate media players, all at one time, she said.

“It’s an amazing platform. but we have to get the systems upgraded to all digital first,” Abdoulah said in an interview prior to stopping in Columbus last week to rally the local workers at the Convention and Trade Center.

It’s been just nearly eight months since WOW!, which is privately owned by Avista Capital Partners, closed its $1.5 billion purchase of West Point, Ga.-based Knology Inc. The acquisition gave the Denver firm access to new markets in the Southeast and the Midwest, making it the 9th-largest cable company in the U.S.

Since its founding in 1994 by West Point, Ga.-based ITC Holding Co., Knology’s footprint grew to communities in nine states — Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, South Carolina, South Dakota and Tennessee. The company’s work force also swelled to 3,250, which includes 95 in Columbus and 128 in West Point.

Abdoulah called the acquisition the “right fit” for WOW!, which itself dates to 1996 and already had cable operations in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan. It does not do business in Denver, its headquarters city, a market dominated by Comcast.

The cable executive said she also liked the fact that Knology’s markets are smaller communities, unlike its own presence in major cities such as Chicago and Cleveland. And Knology’s focus on customer service, she said, meshes well with WOW!’s own corporate culture.

The Denver firm has received 17 J.D. Power and Associates customer satisfaction awards for its Internet, cable and phone services. Consumer Reports also declared it the top bundler of cable and Internet services in the nation last June.

“We liked the fact that they were a competitor as well, so they knew how to compete in this highly competitive environment,” said Abdoulah of Knology.

Locally, it goes head to head against Mediacom and Charter in Columbus. Cable TV of East Alabama is the only cable operator in Phenix City, Russell County and much of Smiths Station. Charter also offers service on Fort Benning, while DirecTV and Dish Network are the satellite rivals in the area.

“It’s good because customers have a lot of variety and choice. When communities have more than one broadband provider, it keeps everything in check,” said Abdoulah, who believes there will be “room to grow” in WOW!’s new markets. The company eventually will look to build out to areas it doesn’t currently serve, she said, while also ramping up its service to small and medium-sized businesses.

The most visible part of Knology’s transition to WOW! starts Tuesday, the executive said, with new logos and signs officially being unveiled on buildings, service trucks and employee shirts.

Aside from upgrading the digital capability of the local operation, a billing system also will be converted over time. It will take about 18 months before customers see any new products, she said, while no immediate pricing changes are planned for customers.

As for employees, Abdoulah said some with Knology in “duplicated positions” have left the company, most of that done within the first 90 to 120 days of the merger’s completion last July.

“We have not seen a major exit, and we hope to grow in each market the resources that we currently have. So it’s not a matter of more cuts down the road,” she said, also mentioning there are no current plans to eliminate the West Point office, which still retains some engineering, accounting and financial people.

“We have some really good people there and we want to keep them. So we’ve tried hard to accommodate everybody that’s there,” she said.

Abdoulah, meanwhile, is chairwoman of the American Cable Association. That means she keeps an extremely close eye on industry issues.

She believes cable and communications laws passed in the 1990s need to be updated to reflect a much more modern world with ever-changing consumer products and technologies.

“The fact that content is so vast and diverse, and consumer appetite for video content over the Internet so great — when they want it, how they want it, on which devices they want to use it on — that I think content providers have to decide what the business model is going to look like,” she said, “because the current model isn’t sustainable.”

That model, she said, gives a handful of major entertainment companies the upper hand over cable operators. The big firms mandate costs, distribution and even bundling of various networks and channels.

“You can’t distribute it on this tier. You can’t bundle it this way. You can’t offer it on the Internet without an additional fee,” Abdoulah said of the major content providers, such as the Walt Disney Co., owner of ABC and the suite of ESPN networks.

“They call all of the shots,” she said. “So we are basically subsidizing anything that people want to see free. If you go onto the ABC (web) site to watch ‘Modern Family,’ you’re able to get that free because we’re paying for that.”

WHAT CUSTOMERS CAN EXPECT

Here are a few things customers of WOW! (formerly Knology) might like to know about their new company and its service:

SERVICE: WOW! says its operating philosophy is “to deliver an employee and customer experience that lives up to our name” ITS NAME: Launched in 1996 as WideOpenWest, the name was shortened after the company’s original goal to expand westward from Denver ended due to a sluggish economy and financial constraints

EMPLOYEES: Some workers in duplicated positions have left the company since the merger was completed in July. The vast majority of employees remain with WOW!

PRODUCTS AND SERVICES: No immediate changes are planned. In the future, the company plans to introduce additional products and services to meet the changing needs of customers

PRICES: Any future increases would be under the ordinary course of business as expenses such as programming continue to rise. Customers will be fully informed in advance of any pricing changes

LINE-UP CHANGES: No immediate channel changes are planned at this time. The company plans to make “enhancements” to its video line-up to continue to attract and retain customers. Any adjustments to the channel line-up will occur as a normal course of business, taking into account customer demand for new networks and services

EMAIL: The company does not plan to change customer email addresses. That means customers who use knology.net for email may continue to do so. If plans ever change, the company will let customers know in advance to minimize disruption and inconvenience

PHONE NUMBERS: Customer numbers will not change

ONLINE: For more information, visit www.wowway.com

* Source: WOW!

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