Sending a fight fan on a free trip to Las Vegas for a big bout and offering the first 10 minutes of a video-on-demand movie for free to hook the viewer into buying -- those are among the tactics cable operators are using to pump up the pay portion of the VOD business.
Operators on a panel at the CTAM in New York conference Thursday made clear they see free and pay VOD as a vital and growing part of the video mix.
"We talk about VOD being a differentiator," Gary Lindemann, senior director of video at cable provider Mediacom Communications, said. "It's prominent in everything we do. It's a cool application and we try to get that across."
Comcast has seen the platform grow to the tune of 400 million views per month, Michael Imbesi, executive director of programming and promotions at Comcast's Xfinity On Demand, said during the same session. That's up from 350 million views Comcast said it was getting just this past April.
Sampling is something operators can do with the platform to try to boost usage and buys, Imbesi said. Comcast offered 10-minute free previews of Tron and Hanna, two movies with enough action up front to hook a viewer into buying, he said. He said Diana Kerekes, the VP and GM of Xfinity On Demand, would discuss "conversion rates" from those previews at a later panel.
"On the TV side we've had great success with premieres before linear," Imbesi also said. "That's another great way we can use the platform to differentiate is to offer content before anyone else does."
Fox's New Girl aired on demand two weeks before it debuted and NBC's Whitney had a week's head start, Imbesi said. Comcast typically generates "hundreds of thousands of views" of programs in those windows, he said.
Kristin Malaspina, senior director of partnership marketing at Time Warner Cable, said a key to boosting buy rates is start promoting movies and events weeks before their on-demand window. Time Warner Cable did that while the latest Harry Potter film was still in theatres, "leveraging the buzz" ahead of the VOD release, she said.
Before the Sept. 17 welterweight pay fight between Floyd Mayweather and Victor Ortiz, Time Warner Cable had a contest to send subscribers to Las Vegas, Malaspina said. "That helped us start the promotion for the fight much earlier, because we had something to talk about to customers. And it wasn't really ‘buy the fight, buy the fight,' it was ‘get exclusive access to win a trip there.' "
The fight drew more than one million buys, the third straight 1-million-plus-buy fight for Mayweather.
Tammy Ross, VP and general manager of HBO PPV/HBO Sports, said what made that Time Warner Cable promotion a success was the cable operator sent a film crew to Vegas with the winner and "and brought all their customers to Vegas, via their platform."
Doug Hartling, director of pay-per-view and video-on-demand marketing for Ultimate Fighting Championship, said UFC, which shows some undercard events for free on Facebook, uses that platform to help get non-fans to sample.
The Mayweather-Ortiz fight, which ended with a controversial knockout by Mayweather, also was controversial for a highest-ever $59.95 price tag ($69.95 in high definition). Fight promoters typically set the price in concert with the distributor, in this case HBO.
Ross said that price will be hard to meet or beat going forward, given how many people are struggling in this economy. "I think the promoters have stretched probably as far as they can go," she said. "I don't see you're going to be seeing many $59.95 events going forward."
‘$70 IS STILL A BARGAIN'
Ross defended the value of the water-cooler-worthy event, though. Typically the buy is for five or six people to watch in a gathering, she said. "Seventy dollars is still a bargain for a sat night, full length, four hours of incredible [boxing]."
Lindemann said a core group of fans will pay the going rate for a big event. "But if you don't deliver on the quality of the event, they're not going to pay it next time."
The Mediacom executive also urged programming "partners" including HBO, WWE and UFC, to keep big events coming. "It creates buzz for the platform, it gets people excited about it, it gets people using the platform. They drive the movies and the everyday business."
The breakfast session was put on by Multichannel News and Broadcasting & Cable magazines and moderated by MCN editor in chief Mark Robichaux and programming editor R. Thomas Umstead.