Hey Music Lovers - Multichannel

Hey Music Lovers

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Music Choice and Mediacom Communications Corp. will back the upcoming test of the programmer's personalized music service with an array of media support, including text messages.

The trial run of the video-on-demand-enabled "My Music Choice" is slated to begin with Mediacom in the "Quad Cities" market of Moline, Ill., and Davenport, Iowa, later this month, en route to an industry-wide rollout next June.

The service will enable Mediacom's digital subscribers to create their own music channels from Music Choice's array of audio channels, free of charge.

Combine Genres

By tapping servers from SeaChange International Inc., Mediacom subscribers can forge a combined-channel alternative, pairing country and blues songs, if they so desired. The personalized channels could subsequently be amended to reflect a new frequency of songs from particular genres.

Music Choice CEO Dave Del Beccaro said there are up to 100,000 combinations available.

To help build awareness for the trial and educate digital subscribers on crafting their own channels, Mediacom senior director of advanced products John Woods said the MSO — which has 32% digital penetration in a market with 80,000 basic customers — would deploy "a combination of classic tactics, including cross-channel ads and bill inserts."

Woods also said Mediacom plans to send text messages to subscribers via Motorola Inc.'s DCT-2000 set-top boxes.

"The subscribers will receive a little message flag on their [TV] screens. If they choose to open it, they will receive information encouraging them to check out the service," he said.

Woods said My Music Choice allows "further leveraging of our VOD platform, in this case an audio service. We believe it will unlock more value for existing digital customer base and may attract some new subscribers."

He doesn't anticipate many bandwidth conflicts between My Music Choice and other VOD applications. "A lot of Music Choice usage occurs during off-peak hours, like early fringe [early evening] and Saturday afternoons," said Woods. "We will be tracking the streaming usage because we don't want it to interfere with revenue generating VOD activities."

Music Choice, now in some 30.3 million digital cable and DirecTV Inc. satellite homes, will also air spots and use telemarketing to boost general awareness of the service's debut, senior vice president of marketing, advertising and sponsorship sales Christina Tancredi said.

Information can be inserted locally onto the ad panels of Mediacom's Music Choice audio channels, guiding viewers to try My Music Choice by selecting the attendant button on their screen.

"Over the course of the trial, we're going to try and find the right mix of genres and panels to get people to personalize their own service," Tancredi said. A two-minute instructional video describing how to create the channels can also be accessed via Mediacom's VOD menu.

Music Choice will "step back over the course of the trial and evaluate what changes we need to make to the media mix, the creative and the instructional video in preparation for the national launch next June," Tancredi said.

Originally, the consumer trial with Mediacom in Moline was slated for last April. That test, and another scheduled with Blue Ridge Communications for June, got hung up over technical and software issues.

Del Beccaro hopes many digital-cable systems will launch the service next June when SeaChange and Concurrent Computer Corp. complete software upgrades.

Online Downloads

In the meantime, systems that make the commitment to the June launch could offer an online version of My Music Choice to consumers, beginning in December.

"This should be a great competitive advantage to cable operators [over DBS providers] from the modem side," said Del Becarro. "From the TV side, this will be one of the most robust interactive-TV applications out there."

The online version could provide a transactional element. "Like [Apple Computer Corp.'s] iPod, a downloaded single would cost around 99 cents," Del Becarro said. MSOs would be able to get a cut of these transactions, ranging from 5% to 40%. Music Choice would get a proposed 5%.

"We're not in this for the retail business," he said.

Woods said Mediacom executives have seen the presentation for the Internet service, but had not yet made a commitment. As of presstime, no other MSO had signed on for it, either.

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