New Orleans -- Efforts by operators and programmers to market and promote video on demand have paid off in building awareness of the product among cable subscribers, but the industry still needs to improve on the platform's navigation and continue to shorten theatrical movie windows to bring non-users into the tent.
That was the consensus among cable industry executives speaking at Multichannel News's "Success Strategies For Marketing VOD" breakfast here Tuesday morning at CTAM Summit 2010. The executives said a consistent, layered approach to marketing VOD that showcases program attributes, as well as the emotional draw of watching movies and primetime shows at the push of a remote button, has helped build operator VOD revenue and usage growth.
Bob Nocera, director of marketing and new video services for Cox Communications, said that 85% of the MSO's customers are aware of on demand through its marketing efforts. Further, the MSO's VOD offering of primetime content from the broadcast and cable networks has doubled each year since its launched in 2008.
Kim Mills, senior director of consumer marketing and retention for Time Warner Cable, also touted increases in both movie and primetime TV series VOD viewing due to the network's multi-layered marketing approach. She pointed to the MSO's strategy of leading its promotional message with an occasion or emotional-based idea, like an instant family or date night, then follow with a "big cinematic view" featuring movie trailers, and closing with the functional benefit such as instant premieres and HD.
For programmers, Jan Diedrichsen, senior vice president of affiliate marketing for Rainbow Media, said VOD has helped increase viewership for Rainbow-owned network shows, particularly with the advent of C3 viewership measurements. He pointed to the launch of AMC's drama Rubicon, which became the most-watched network new series premiere after AMC had teased its bow on VOD weeks prior to its network debut.
Cox's Nocera added that a subscriber survey taken after it launched its My Primetime platform indicated that 27% of respondents said they wouldn't watch the show at all if it were not available on VOD. He added that Turner Networks reported a 10% lift in viewership for its shows that were available on demand.
Still the industry needs to increase awareness and usage of VOD. Nocera said on a monthly basis more than half of viewers use VOD, but Cox is seeking to lure non-users to the platform through several marketing tactics, including a monthly e-mail to new subscribers touting free VOD content. On the transactional side, Cox has offered non-users a chance to purchase a discounted 99 cent movie, which he said had often led to future buys among those taking advantage of the offer. "If you give them an incentive and make them aware that these movies are available in that time frame," he said.
David Purdy, vice president and general manager, Rogers Communications,said the MSO is looking to add more multicultural VOD content to serve the 44% of its subscriber base that speaks a language other than English or French. He also pointed to the much debated "premium VOD" window that would deliver theatrical movies to homes weeks after they debut in the movie theaters, saying that it could win back viewers who had a past bad experience with VOD due to late movie windows and lack of inventory compared to the home video outlets.
"That I think will bring a ton of people back to the category," he said.
Also, the use of social media is a cost-effective way of promoting VOD to subscribers, according to Doug Sylvester, COO Avail-TVN Entertainment. He pointed to cable competitors Redbox and Netflix, which have 1.5 million and 750,000 fans on social network leader Facebook, compared to cable operators, which range from 65,000 to 210,000 fans.
"These are your subscribers -- 74% of 18-to-34 year-olds are active on Facebook -- so they're having a conversation," Sylvester said. "If you're not part of it, then they're going to have a conversation without you," he said.
The panelists also admitted that ease of navigation continues to be a major issue for operators in the VOD space. Both Cox and Time Warner are working on improving guide functionality to allow for more subscriber options, today while working toward creating enhanced VOD menu guides that would include title search opportunities and other options.
"The exciting thing is to look at how much content we have -- it's a good news story, but the navigation is an issue," said Mills.