Cox Expands 'FreeZone’ Ad Platform


As more companies look to reach users through long-form messaging, Cox Communications Inc. will significantly expand its FreeZone video-on-demand platform this year.

Cox launched FreeZone — the first long-form VOD ad platform — in 2002 in San Diego, with content from Coca-Cola, BMV, Volvo and Best Buy. This year, it will roll it out in eight additional markets.

MSO subscribers in Orange County, Calif.; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Oklahoma City; Omaha, Neb.; Hampton Roads, Va.; Rhode Island; and Connecticut will be able to access FreeZone in the months ahead.

FreeZone’s availability in these markets coincides with Cox’s ongoing development of its Entertainment On Demand service in those same areas.

The additional rollouts will put FreeZone before 1 million subscribers in the nine markets, said Cox senior vice president of advertising Billy Farina.

Cox has set a revenue target for 2005, said vice president of national sales Dianne Earley, and she believes it will hit that undisclosed mark. The Atlanta-based MSO is negotiating FreeZone deals with clients in the automotive, entertainment and food categories.

“We definitely have a high level of interest,” she said.

As other MSOs have launched long-form VOD advertising, there’s been more awareness on Madison Avenue, added vice president of sales development Debby Mullin.

Calling it “an emerging trend,” Mullin said that over the past year, many advertisers have gravitated to shorter pieces of less than 10 minutes in length.

In Mullin’s view, Cox is well-prepared to transport FreeZone to the new markets. “We’ve tried to build a very reliable foundation [for the launches]. Everything was done manually in San Diego,” she said. “It was difficult to scale.”

The new platform “is streamlined and automated,” she added. “We made it easy for the advertiser to use.”

Everstream Inc. and N2 Broadband will supply software for FreeZone. N2 is providing its technology platform and systems integration, including its Xport Digital Media Producer, MediaPath Content Delivery System and AdPoint software. Cauldron Solutions supplied its DragonFly workflow software for N2’s VOD software package.

Cox is deploying a version of Everstream’s data warehousing S4 Data Suite and reporting solution to track viewership of FreeZone ads, the vendor said.

That software will make it easier for advertisers to participate in FreeZone. One phone call can trigger the placement of the same ad in the nine markets, according to Mullin. “This can be a huge burden for advertisers to try” unless the platform is easy to use, she said. “We’ve taken care to build a team [at Cox] to help advertisers and really take the burden from them.”

Cox said half of its San Diego digital subscribers accessed FreeZone during the pilot period, with each unique viewer spending 25.5 minutes per week with advertising content. Cox provides advertisers information on total views per video, unique households, average time spent per video and the percentage of VOD homes that watch each clip.

Those metrics were developed by the American Association of Advertising Agencies and agreed to by MSOs, including Cox, Mullin said.