Call It 'Bostonvision’

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Comcast Corp. has taken its local video-on-demand platform on the road — with a regional twist.

The MSO’s New England division last week introduced a new “Get Local” VOD programming category that includes more than 40 hours of daily content from five programmers for the area’s 2.2 million subscribers.

Patterned after Comcast’s “Phillyvision” approach in Philadelphia, the lineup comprises news and sports shows from New England Cable News, as well as fare from Comcast’s own CN8: The Comcast Network; local broadcasters WCVB-TV and WGBH; and New England Sports Network. They’ll provide more than 200 hours a week to the on-demand platform, which digital-video customers will receive for no extra monthly charge.

Comcast officials say they’re looking to such video additions as local VOD programs, local HDTV fare and additional free VOD offerings from popular basic networks like Viacom Inc.’s MTV Networks (recently added in Philadelphia) to provide an edge against the direct-broadcast satellite competition.

All the local VOD programs offered in Boston will be encoded on the fly by SeaChange International Inc. servers and appear on the platform just minutes after their initial telecasts conclude — complete with commercials.

As in Philadelphia, the Boston VOD platform is said to have 1,800 program choices in all, including ad-supported VOD fare from several basic-cable networks, plus premium subscription VOD services and Hollywood movies.

“This is an incredibly robust offering we’re bringing together,” Michael Doyle, president of Comcast Cable’s Eastern Division, said of the local-VOD array. “Localism is extremely important to a cable company. And this shows a synergy that’s never existed between TV providers.”

“We’re very exited to have an opportunity to play a role in this on-demand rollout,” added Phil Balboni, the president and general manager of NECN, which is jointly owned by Comcast and Hearst Corp.

NECN is providing the programs New England Midday, News at Nine, Sports LateNight, This Week in Business, TV Diner and New England Dream House.

The content on CN8 has been broadened to include guests, commentary and features from New England. Once a Philadelphia-area network, it’s now more of a regional service, Comcast executives said.

CN8 programs on Get Local include Nitebeat, Sports Pulse, It’s Your Call with Lynn Doyle, Money Matters Today and One on One With Steve Adubato.

WCVB-TV Boston, an ABC affiliate owned by Hearst-Argyle Corp., is providing EyeOpener, its 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. NewsCenter shows and Chronicle.

PBS affiliate WGBH Boston offers NewsHour With Jim Lehrer and Greater Boston, and “specials” from such programs as American Experience, Mystery and Simply Ming.

NESN will provide coverage of the Boston Bruins in the National Hockey League playoffs.

The content from the two Boston TV stations will appear in Massachusetts systems, but won’t be carried in Connecticut, home to 500,000 of Comcast’s 2.2 million subscribers in the region.

Instead, Connecticut subscribers will have access to the morning and evening news programs from NBC affiliate WVIT-TV in Hartford, Conn.

Local content is making a big difference in Philadelphia, Doyle said, where usage has climbed to 155,000 orders a month. He expects that monthly figure could rise to 500,000.

In New England, which will now boast even more local content, Doyle said he wouldn’t be surprised if Comcast saw a surge to 1 million orders per month.

In Philadelphia, Doyle said, 74% of digital subscribers use VOD, with the average user accessing it nine times a month.

In Boston, 67% of digital subscribers used VOD in the past month. Doyle hopes with local content, he’ll draw in different users, and perhaps raise usage figures another 10 points.

What’s more, Doyle said consumers who use VOD are three times less likely to churn out of the digital category.

The first 40 hours represent a beginning, said Balboni and Doyle.

“We’re looking at creating custom content for VOD,” Balboni said. That could include customized weather reports and news updates.

“We pioneered streaming video on the Web in 1997,” Balboni said. “Every story we gather we publish to the web. We have a vision to migrate a lot of that content to VOD.”

Doyle said Comcast is looking toward the fall elections and plans to carry select candidate interviews from key local and state races on the VOD platform. When they go to the polls, many voters have no idea what local and state candidates stand on the issues, said Doyle. In the final weeks of the campaign, those voters will be able to watch candidate statements and interviews via the VOD platform.

High-school sports are another local possibility. Comcast televises more than 300 local high-school sporting events across New England, New Jersey and Philadelphia, Doyle said, and some those could find their way to the server.

In December, the Philadelphia system carried holiday greetings from servicemen and women stationed oversees, drawing 3,700 views. “It was the right thing to do,” Doyle said.

The recent implosion of Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia also proved popular on the VOD platform: viewers watched it 33,000 times, Doyle said.

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