Liquidus Makes VOD Classifieds Sing

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Chicago-based Liquidus is using the photo-panning technique made famous by documentary filmmaker Ken Burns to turn classified ads into more engaging on-demand video spots.

The company is working with Comcast and other cable companies to deliver thousands of video-on-demand classified ads to subscribers, in categories that include cars, real estate and job listings.

The Liquidus software generates video files automatically from images, text and audio--sending upward of 50,000 individual VOD assets per week to cable operators, according to Kirk Davis, executive vice president of account services.

The system turns photos into videos by adding up to 30 panning or zooming effects, inserting data into on-screen graphics, and layering in music tracks, voiceovers or text-to-speech audio.

“At first, we thought, ‘Who’s going to watch this?’ That was one of the big hang-ups,” Liquidus president and CEO Todd Holmes said. “But we think people need to see video as it relates to TV.”

The Liquidus platform is currently deployed to 10 million households in 30 markets, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Denver and San Francisco.

Operators that have deployed or are testing the system include Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Cox Communications, Bright House Networks and Bresnan Communications.

Video-on-demand classifieds are highly engaging, Liquidus claims: In markets where the system has gone live, around 10% of the digital cable subscribers view at least one VOD spot each month. In Comcast’s Chicago market, which has 1.2 million digital subscribers, that amounts to an audience of more than 100,000.

Comcast and other operators deal directly with some classified advertisers, including real-estate company Re/Max, while Liquidus has deals with others, such as automotive marketing provider HomeNet. The VOD ads run between $25 and $30 per listing per week depending on market.

Holmes said Liquidus generates 96% of its VOD ads in an automated fashion, from 400 different data feeds. “People have said, Why don’t you just take a Handycam out and shoot some video?” he said. “But it’s just not scalable--you can’t do that for every listing. And that’s also not the way the classifieds business is organized.”

With Liquidus’ automated system, once per week, the videos are automatically generated and then placed onto cable operators’ VOD servers without any manual intervention.

Evidently, Comcast is a big believer in the approach: In November, the operator signed a five-year contract to use the Liquidus system. Liquidus has been working with Comcast since 2004, when the operator approached the startup looking for a way to deliver VOD ads to local markets.

The 60-employee company anticipates almost tripling revenues this year, from $4.3 million in 2007 to about $12 million, Holmes said. Liquidus has received outside funding from individual “angel” investors, and is profitable, he added.

Founded in 2001, the company was focused on Web development and online marketing services before hooking up with Comcast.

Liquidus has expanded its business to include producing video for classified Web sites; customers on this front include Cars.com and The Los Angeles Times.

Also on the near horizon: Interactive TV ads that will link local linear spots to video-on-demand classified ads.

“An auto dealer could run a 30-second spot, and have an icon that comes up that says, ‘Click the remote to find out more,’ and the viewer will go into that dealer’s video-on-demand inventory,” Davis said.

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