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AT&T CruiseCast Soft Launched At Retailers

AT&T CruiseCast, the much-anticipated car satellite system, has soft launched its $1,299 device and service at select retail outlets.

The company is targeting a hard-launch date in early June, although no firm date has been set, said company president Winston Guillory.

The 22-channel satellite-TV service is presently working with “small groups” of car stereo specialists, expediters and distributors to sign up just a few dozen customers to test its distribution, merchandising and promotional network, said Guillory.

The soft launch in late April represents a delay from the company’s original plans for a full launch in March.

Approximately 373 retail, distributor and expediter storefronts have signed up to carry the product although many are not participating in the soft launch, according to a list of retailers on the CruiseCast Web site and TWICE calls to some of those outlets.

Al & Ed’s Autosound said it is taking an aggressive stance and ordered 50 units about two weeks ago. “We think it’s a great technology — we wanted to take a position,” said product manager John Haynes. He believes the system is a lower-priced alternative to the KVH DirecTV system, which sells at approximately $3,000.

Crutchfield is taking preorders on its Web site and Car Toys is looking into selling the product, it said. MyerEmco president and COO Gary Yacoubian said the product “will create a ton of buzz,” and the chain will be investigating it over the next few weeks.

Abt Electronics plans to order units next month, again, as a lower-cost alternative to KVH system.

Of those polled, Audio Express seemed the most cautious. “I am still collecting data, but preliminary feedback is that both the price of this unit along with the monthly cost of the limited programming will limit the number of potential customers that will be willing or able to justify this product in these very difficult financial times,” said purchasing director Grant Phillips.

The AT&T CruiseCast system includes a black box the size of a book that hides under the seat of a car and connects to most rear-seat entertainment systems. It has an antenna the size and shape of a bicycle helmet that attaches to the roof by a magnetic mount or a roof rack mount. The unit must be professionally installed and carries a $28/month service fee. No free trials are planned at launch.

AT&T CruiseCast, a joint venture between RaySat and AT&T, is requiring that retailers receive installation training on the device.

To date, the announced content partners for the service are MTV and NBC networks which includes programming such as MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, The N and Noggin. Other channels are expected to be announced totaling 22 video channels and 20 audio channels.

The AT&T CruiseCast service will have competition. Audiovox plans to offer a MediaFLO DTV tuner, at a target price of $599 to $699 (installed) in late September or early October through car dealers with car stereo specialists to follow early next year.

ICO Global Communications is also planning a car-TV satellite, and a new mobile DTV standard permitting simulcasts of standard TV shows on mobile devices could reach the market next year by suppliers including Kenwood.