Cable Operators

On Demand Gets Diverse

7/25/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

While most cable operators offer some form of ethnically-targeted tier of linear networks and content, they are increasingly turning to video on demand to attract and retain multicultural subscribers.

Using a mix of fee-based and free on-demand content, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable are targeting language-specific and ethically tinged VOD packages to a growing base of multicultural customers.

“It’s pretty obvious to us that VOD results in a stickier customer and within our many communities it stimulates positive word-of-mouth for our services,” said Time Warner Cable senior director of corporate target marketing William Ortiz. “For us, it’s key to reaching our customers.”

Comcast offers several packages ranging from its “En Español” VOD service providing 300 movie and entertainment choices per month to an India-based Bollywood channel and a “Filipino on demand” service, according to vice president of video content Diane Kerekes.

This month, Comcast launched “Dobladas en Español,” a dual audio service that allows consumers to listen to English-language programming dubbed in Spanish by changing the language feature in the system programming guide. “Right now, the feature is offered for our transactional movies, but we’re adding more and more content with dual audio,” said Kerekes. “If programmers send us content dual-audio enabled, then a customer can go into their guides, change their primary language from English to Spanish and open up endless possibilities [for Spanish-language content].”

TWC also offers several Hispanic and international movie transactional packages featuring Spanish-dubbed Hollywood films and unique Italian, French, India/Bollywood movies. Given the operator’s extremely diverse footprint — more than 40% of the U.S. Asian population and 30% of the country’s African-American population reside within DMAs that it serves — Ortiz says offering a variety of ethnically-focused on-demand content is imperative.

“In order to be successful, we have to have the right content, market to these segments in a way that’s going to be effective and we need to retain them as customers and VOD is a big part of that,” he said.

Along with foreign-language based pay-per-view movies, Cox systems also offer a free Hispanic-targeted on-demand package. The FreeZone En Español service features free full-length movies, music video programming and Spanish-language content from such networks as Lifetime Movie Networks, FearNet and Bloomberg, according to MSO officials.

Overall, Kerekes said the packages provide operators with an opportunity to reach out to subscribers in minority communities looking for programming that speaks to their culture — often in their native language. More importantly, the VOD technology gives those subscribers the opportunity to access that content on their own schedule.

Ortiz added that such content can also provide operators with additional revenue from content transactional fees. Comcast draws undisclosed revenue from a $9.99 monthly subscription fee charged for its Bollywood service, which offers 25 movies and 50 music videos per month, as well as the Filipino package, which provides movies, live concerts and other Asian-Pacific content. Also, the network’s Spanish-language on-demand service can only be accessed through the purchase of the MSO’s Hispanic tier.

Several MSOs have also turned to PPV and on-demand content aggregator In Demand for multicultural-related VOD product. The company has offered a package of Spanish-language films and dubbed Hollywood films, as well as an internationally themed package of movie titles from France, Italy, Japan, India and China since 2006.

“The affiliates came to us and said, 'We’ve got these different audiences which we want to try and serve,’ ” said In Demand senior vice president of business development Jason Patton. “We have received positive feedback from affiliates — the communities that they wanted to serve have been served by these offerings.”

But simply offering multiculturally based on-demand content isn’t enough: Ortiz said it’s critical to educate customers on how to find and use the VOD technology.

Time Warner is working on developing VOD educational and awareness projects as part of a major on-demand initiative to be launched later this year, although Ortiz would not reveal specific details. “When we talk about education we would use lots of different tactics to make that happen — everything from the barker on the programming guide to online to cross channel to direct mail and in some case we’ll use broadcast,” he said. “It needs to be a 360[-degree] approach.”

Comcast is currently running a VOD-awareness campaign around Univision’s Gold Cup soccer coverage, which the MSO is offering both live on the broadcast network and on demand with game replays, highlights and other affiliated content. The MSO is using direct mail and online banners on its broadband service to get the message to its targeted Hispanic viewers.

Kerekes says the MSO also provides targeted programming for other ethnic groups throughout the year. This February, the MSO offered a robust African-American-targeted free on demand package in celebration of Black History Month; and in May, Comcast teamed with the Center for Asian Entertainment to help create a month-long package of Asian-themed on-demand programming.

Both Comcast and Time Warner are planning ambitious expansions of VOD bandwidth later this year that executives say will allow them to provide even more targeted on-demand content to more communities.

“As all of that opens up and we do more things, I think that’s the perfect place for this type of niche content,” Kerekes said. “At that point, you can address every ethnicity and every genre, which then provides more value to the customer.”

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