Local Fare is VOD Gold

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Marketing has always been a challenge for an industry with different priorities, disparate markets and a unique mix of products. But one bright spot is the recent industry-sponsored "Only Cable Can" advertising campaign, designed in part to differentiate cable from direct-broadcast satellite.

Spearheaded by the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing, its key objective is to highlight cable's value proposition to its customers. And while Only Cable Can is the right national approach to showcase the advantages of cable over DBS, an emerging trend in video-on-demand content is beginning to achieve similar objectives on a local level. It is through this unique cable approach that VOD gold can be mined.

DirecTV Inc. and Dish Network are already selling what consumer-electronics stores are marketing as VOD. By positioning DVR-enabled systems as "VOD-ready," they are slowly encroaching on cable's VOD advantage. (Dish parent EchoStar Communications Corp. recently announced hitting the 1 million DVR-enabled subscriber mark, and DirecTV projects 750,000 subscribers by year-end 2003.)

The thinking goes something like this: DBS can "push" content in the overnights to their customers DVR-enabled boxes; content like movies, events, free concerts, subscription VOD, sporting events; and consumers could then view those programs "on demand".

Over the past several months, several cable systems have taken advantage of the VOD platform to present uniquely local events — programs unavailable on any current or future DBS system. They range from quick turn-around sporting events to local election information programs. In each case, the cable operator seized the opportunity to capture events of local interest, which linked their brand to their community in a way that the dish people never could.

Some recent examples:

  • Insight Communications Co. in Evansville, Ind., offered a 3-hour youth baseball game as a free VOD program in July that garnered hundreds of "views". The 25-day VOD window allowed all those parents who missed it a chance to catch their little leaguer on their own schedule.
  • Altrio provided a VOD "Candidate Forum" for the Los Angeles city elections. Each candidate contributed a personal bio and addressed the community directly on a range of election issues. Time was made available equally to all candidates. Community leaders lauded the effort as a valuable voter information initiative. Voter knowledge and participation was enhanced, and Altrio was able to showcase VOD as a public service.

There are many additional examples, including disaster preparation planning programs, community bulletins on upcoming events and educational outreach programs to name a few.

What each of these cable systems has in common is the knowledge that their VOD platform provides a powerful means to connect with their customers, attract new users to the category, build loyalty, and differentiate hometown cable from DBS. It is less about creating a home run revenue opportunity, and more about maximizing a homespun community video system. It is a powerful branding opportunity expressed as a commitment to the community, a community in which they live as well as provide cable service.

So while supporting national industry-wide initiatives is an important and meaningful way to communicate cable's unique advantages, there may just be some VOD gold right around the corner.

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