Cable Operators

Enriching ITV Options

9/23/2005 8:00 PM Eastern

During any given week, thousands of Cablevision Systems Corp. subscribers use the company’s iO: Interactive Optimum digital-cable service to do a lot more than watch TV. Some use the Optimum Autos classified service, which allows them to view more than 50,000 new and used car listings from 300 dealers, while others shell out $1.95 to access games ranging from Asteroids to Slingo.

For subscribers that simply want to want to watch more TV or surf the Internet, iO allows them to upgrade to new programming packages or order cable-modem service with a few clicks of the remote.

While most other operators have slowed interactive TV rollouts in order to focus on new products such as video on demand and digital video recorders, Cablevision has plunged headlong into ITV. Executives say they’re not only generating new revenue from interactive services, but saving money by tying customer-service applications such as the “click to upgrade” feature onto the iO platform.

“We definitely make money with the on-screen upgrades. The reduction of call-center volume, that’s in the millions of dollars that we’re saving just in terms of calls we don’t have to take, and in my mind incremental sales that we probably wouldn’t get in any other way,” says vice president of digital television and broadband development Patrick Donoghue.

According to Donoghue, during this year alone, Cablevision has processed more than 200,000 upgrades through digital set-tops, including orders for subscription VOD services such as HBO On Demand; upgrades to Major League Baseball “Extra Innings” and other sports packages; and gaming packages. Next year, Cablevision customers will be able to use iO to order new premium channels with a click of the remote.

Much of Cablevision’s interactive TV efforts have focused on melding the Internet and television, allowing advertisers to create spots that are posted on company-owned Web sites such as OptimumAutos.com, and digital cable channels. Cablevision is also using classified advertising — traditionally a staple of the newspaper business — and offering advertisers the ability to run ads for cars and real estate listings on its Web sites and digital-cable platform.

“What we were trying to build here was a platform to be able to really leverage television and the Internet — two core services of the company with one seamless service,” says Optimum Classifieds vice president Gary Schanman. “The ability to save listings between the Web and television, which is something that’s very unique, is something that obviously can be deployed with other initiatives we have as a company.”

AUTO MOTIVES

Cablevision began marketing the Optimum Autos classifieds service in January. The service sells listings to new and used car dealers that subscribers can view on the Web site or iO channel 605. Subscribers can also browse hundreds of on-demand video clips of new cars — spots that Cablevision has sold to national auto companies.

Subscribers can request more information about a car with their remotes. Cablevision uses the addresses it has on file to allow the dealers to send brochures to customers that say they’re interested in a car.

“We don’t do any blind sending — it’s a transaction between [subscribers] and the dealer that we try to facilitate as much as possible through technology,” Schanman says.

The MSO turned up its marketing effort behind Optimum Autos with two major promotions during the summer. One sweepstakes awarded 1,000 gallons of gasoline to the winner; another promotion presented a 2006 Chrysler 300C to a customer.

Cablevision launched the OptimumHomes.com site earlier this year. It allows Web surfers to browse listings for hundreds of homes, mostly in the company’s New York metropolitan footprint. Schanman says Cablevision will add an Optimum Homes channel to the iO platform within the next two months, which will contain the listings available on the Web site.

The business model for Optimum Autos and Optimum Homes is currently based on generating ad revenue from listings sold to dealers, but Cablevision could eventually seek sales commissions for selling homes.

ENHANCING PROGRAMS

Cablevision also uses its iO platform to add interactive elements to some of its cable networks, including Madison Square Garden Network and regional news channel News 12.

The news channel’s anchors frequently pitch News 12 Interactive, available on iO channel 612, which contains on-demand news broadcasts and content that isn’t available on the linear News 12 channel.

The MSO was also one of the first distributors to offer viewers the ability to pick their own camera angles during sports events. In 2001, it launched “MSG Game Director,” allowing subscribers to choose from six different camera angles during telecasts of Cablevision-owned New York Knicks basketball and New York Rangers hockey games.

Donoghue says two of Cablevision’s most popular ITV services are the iO Dashboard and the iO Games Channel. The iO Dashboard is a small window that subscribers can activate on the iO platform, which contains customizable sports scores, weather, news and stock quotes, which can be accessed via any channel.

“I can turn on dashboard, tune to my favorite TV show and I can just let it sort of sit there and have my personalized news wrapped around my show,” Donoghue says.

The company has also drawn significant traffic with the iO Games service, which debuted in 2002. Donoghue says Cablevision averages about 14,000 free game demos per month.

Subscribers can pay $4.95 monthly for unlimited access to iO Games, or $1.95 for 24 hours of access.

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