AT&T Atlanta Readies Consumer VOD Launch


AT&T Broadband of Atlanta initiated a consumer roll-out of its video-on-demand service on a limited basis late last week and planned to place the service before 36,000 digital-ready homes in Cobb County by the end of the year.

The consumer launch follows alpha tests among 40 employees and their friends in Vinings, Ga., during which those involved in the technical trial were instructed to make a VOD purchase each day.

In a beta test that followed, 450 local digital cable customers were included in the trial using Motorola Inc. set-top boxes and Diva Systems Inc. VOD technology.

AT&T plans to use a variety of marketing tactics to promote the introduction of VOD in Atlanta, vice president of new product strategy and marketing Theresa Conley said. Since not every customer in AT&T's Atlanta footprint will have access to the new service initially, the system will concentrate its marketing on direct mail, electronic messaging and cross-channel spots.

The cable operator is considering giving away a free VOD movie as part of its early promotions. "That will get people excited to use it for the first time," Conley said. Once they see how easy VOD is to order, she added, customers could be encouraged to use it instead of going to the video rental store.

Movies on demand will be only one subset of a variety of services the system plans to eventually offer under the brand "On Demand in Atlanta," Conley said.

"We struggled with what to name this," Conley said, adding that the name could be changed as AT&T rolls the service out to other markets.

"We have good indications that customers understand what video on demand is," Conley said. "We're trying to think proactively on how to term this for customers" as the cable operator adds on-demand content apart from video.

The "On Demand in Atlanta" brand will be listed on the portal of the interactive programming guide supplied by TV Guide Inc. under the list of AT&T-specific content.

Although AT&T will start out selling VOD transactionally, the operator is looking to get creative in the way it offers the service, Conley said. For example, customers of the higher-end digital value packages may have options that allow them to order from a kids' menu as often as they wish during a particular time.

"Kids like to watch half-hour shorts over and over and movies over and over," Conley said. "We're looking to keep it simple."

AT&T expects to offer 300 to 400 titles on its initial VOD launch, Conley said, "and we hope it will go up from there." New releases will be priced compatibly with current pay-per-view titles, with library titles likely priced lower.

Some of its short-form titles may even be offered for free, Conley said, such as in the case of how-to videos sponsored by a particular product manufacturer.

Conley said that as AT&T systems launch VOD, they likely will use the new service as an acquisition tool to help drive digital penetration. She noted that VOD was the number one requested service from customers.

Conley said she views VOD as a value-added enhancement to digital cable rather than a new product altogether.

"It has to do with simplicity in the navigation and added value to the platform," she said. VOD also gives AT&T "a huge advantage versus what some of our competitors are doing," Conley said.