Cable marketers have long dreamed about giving consumers the ability to order new services via their remote control, thereby garnering new revenue when subscribers simply click a button.
Cablevision Systems Corp. is already there. With an assist from Cauldron Systems, the MSO's Interactive Optimum subscribers can change levels of digital service and order SVOD or out-of-market sports packages through Sony set-top boxes.
"That's huge," said Kristin Dolan, Cablevision senior vice president of digital product management. "You can tune to the channel that has HBO On Demand and if you're not a subscriber, you can push one button and put in your PIN number, and within two minutes upgrade to the product."
Since launching the product in September, Cablevision has generated more than 6,000 upgrades, Dolan said. With seven VOD and five sports packages, Cablevision has a lot to sell.
The company behind the software is Cauldron Systems, a two-year-old private company based in New York. "We build software solutions for transactions through set-tops," said president Steve Salzinger.
Cablevision is using Cauldron's FlyBuy service upgrade product. "It has a unified backend for consumers to be able to upgrade any service, any time. It's all under two minutes and can be as few as 15 seconds," he said.
Salzinger said subscribers can navigate to the service-upgrade center from several locations, but most often they have been going to the channel number for the premium service or SVOD service.
If consumers go to that screen, but are not subscribers, they'll receive a message to call their local cable company. With Cablevision, in addition to that message, there is a "star" button a consumer can press to instantly order service.
Once that button is pressed, the request feeds through Cablevision's back-office system, double-checking if the consumer needs any prerequisite packages in order to be eligible to receive the service.
The software also assesses whether there is an impending order, to safeguard against consumers ordering the service two and three times in one ordering sequence.
Cauldron's software resides at the headend, and is integrated with the billing system, the Sony set-top box and the CSR management system.
In addition to flipping between digital packages and SVOD services, Salzinger said the systems could add HDTV and DVR service one day, routing remote-control service requests, if necessary, to arrange a truck for a DVR or HD set-top, for instance.
Cauldron also offers a FlyBuy Commerce product. "This enables you to integrate third-party commerce partners to sell things through the set-top," Salzinger said. At the moment, Cauldron has integrated with Hollywood.com to sell movie tickets through set-tops.
FlyBuy Commerce allows consumers to set up an online "wallet" to pay for transactions. The cable operator can pre-populate billing-system-type information in the FlyBuy Commerce database, to authorize orders more quickly. The same PIN a customer uses on the TV can also be employed for Web-based ordering of services.
The application also allows MSOs to route retail transactions, or even big-ticket items like PPV events, to a credit card — not the cable bill.
Cauldron also has an asset-management product for programmers called DragonFly, currently deployed by IFC, MagRack and SportsKool. "The system handles all metadata workflow, schedule management and distribution processes for sending out VOD assets," said Russell Zack, chief operating officer at Cauldron.
The system allows multiple departments inside a programmer to view, and change, metadata content.
Although Cablevision is the only MSO presently using Cauldron, Salzinger said he's in conversations with most other operators.