Come for the games, but stay for the business: That seems
to be the philosophy shared by the most forward-thinking cable Web designers.
System and MSO Web sites that were initially created to
build brand awareness and curb phone traffic are mutating into sales-and-retention
vehicles, as well as value-added sites for advertisers.
"If you're in marketing and you don't use the
Internet, you're way behind the power curve," said Jeff Henry, vice president of
marketing at Paragon Cable of
Portland, Ore., a Time Warner Cable system.
A cruise on the Internet showed that more operators are
adding a little fun to their Web sites in an effort to encourage return visits. The lure
can be as simple as an online game with no download involved -- such as a game that
changes weekly on the Bend (Ore.) Cable Web
site -- to multiquestion trivia earning the successful contestant a new car
or trips to Disneyland.
Communications' corporate site includes a game server on which, for a $20 fee
for shareware, Internet users can play popular computer games like "Duke Nukem"
and "Mortal Kombat." Executives said use of that feature is not significant --
about 500 players per month -- but they plan more robust commercial applications by March
to attract Internet users.
Systems are able to sell ads on their game pages and to
build databases for marketing of upcoming products. For instance, operators can track
local users who log on for sweepstakes and contests and use that information for outbound
marketing when they launch competing Internet-access or high-speed-modem products.
"You can have a wonderful site, but people have to
find it. Our objective is to get people to want to check it every day," said Kit
Beuret, director of public affairs for Oceanic
Cablevision, a Time Warner system in Oahu, Hawaii.
To attract hits, his system offers frequent giveaways. The
current contest will gain the winner a trip to the mainland and tickets to Disneyland.
Yet even with this entertaining site, Beuret said, system
management believes that it can be improved: The site is scheduled for a complete overhaul
to give it less of an operational focus and to create more of a marketing tool. Designers
want to make the cable system's site more vital, like hawaii.RR.com,
a sister site for high-speed-modem users.
Paragon's Portland system has successfully used contests
and games to drive frequent page visits. The system experienced 150,000 hits -- at least
one-half of which were from local customers -- from a recent "Click and Win"
trivia contest. Participants had to visit advertiser's sites or links to learn the answers
to the quiz.
Users from all over the Internet could enter the contest --
hence, the high number of out-of-region hits. However, the eventual winner had to visit
the system in person to pick up the grand prize: a Pontiac Firebird.
Because the contest did not limit entries to subscribers,
it gained names and addresses of homes that could be marketed later for cable and,
eventually, for the high-speed Road Runner service, Henry said.
The tactic seems to be working. "You'd be surprised at
what people will do just to win a T-shirt from HBO [Home Box Office]," he added.
Selling the site is high-tech, too. There is no human sales
force: Advertisers who are interested log on to an online media kit and place an order for
banners, icons, or whatever graphics meet their needs.
However, not all operational applications have been removed
from the site. People who have just moved into the area can use the page to place their
orders before they get to Portland, and the system also provides referrals for move-outs
who are destined for other Time Warner systems.
Henry said it is hard to quantify the revenue potential of
e-commerce, but he is confident that it is a high-margin business. The operator is about
to survey customers on further entertainment applications.
Online entertainment doesn't have to be this involved to
draw incremental hits, some operators said. For instance, Bend Cable's game page allows
users to play very basic on-screen games without having to license or download anything,
and the games change weekly.
"My philosophy is that if you drive people to a Web
site, they'll eventually look at something else. This piques their interest," said
Kathy Boynton, Web developer for the 20,000-subscriber system.
The page averages 2,500 hits per day, she said, and it
gains good feedback from users, who e-mail the system to request that favorite games be
The next level of development, she added, is to make the
analog site more robust, like its digital companion for Road Runner users.