Maven Enables Nat Geo's PC Push

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Cable programmers are making increased use of broadband cross-platform technology to drive interest in linear television programming.

In an effort to boost its viewership, National Geographic Channel is sending programming updates and advisories to the desktop PCs of interested broadband-connected viewers, using software from Maven Networks Inc.

"Broadband is pretty much central to our overall communications strategy," said NGC executive vice president of marketing and new media Steve Schiffman.

GETTING STICKIER

NGC looked at its viewing universe on an attitudinal basis, and found that its viewers are well-educated and technologically savvy, but often underwhelmed by regular-TV viewing choices.

"This group is much more attracted to the NGC concept and the programs that we offer," he said. "This group is an early adopter of technology and this is a really powerful way to reach this group. Broadband is a way to make the content a lot stickier.

"We have an application that promotes specific programs on a weekly basis and is automatically download on top of the computer desktop. And we're trialing an application with consumers in the viewer panel to get feedback on the application."

The software provides viewers with a DVD-type experience, Maven CEO Hilmi Ozguc said, and a foundation for more interactivity cable operators and programmers could deliver in the future.

"The MSOs are caught in this double opportunity," he continued. "They have this cash-cow TV product and this immensely profitable high-speed-data product." And the latter is becoming a video distribution platform, too.

"Now we're talking about an ITV experience that works for real," with the combination of the interactivity of the Internet and the video elements from television.

PROMO TO START

For programmers, it's a similar opportunity, Ozguc said. "Do you want to start experimenting? NGC is using it as a promotional vehicle today."

Ozguc and his Maven colleagues are software industry veterans in the rich-media advertising sector.

Ozguc had been with a software company called Narrative Communications, was one of many swallowed up by Excite@Home Corp. in its acquisition days.

"Maven started with the vision that broadband would be the next video platform," he said. "We had all the learning from the post-Internet bust about how much people using video."

Ozguc set out to develop DVD-type applications that would play on a desktop PC, building a Maven Media System.

The system allows programmers, such as National Geographic, to push full-screen DVD video and real-time interactivity, such as participating in polls, to desktops. "We also have a production and content management systems where we can put together applications that are very cost effective," Ozguc said.

The system downloads video while a subscriber is doing other PC tasks, and stores the information on a hard drive for future playback.

There is also a measurement and analytics piece to track usage: Do customers interact with video, do they sign up for something or use a poll? What did they buy, when did they get out of cycle or did they bring up the program guide?

"You need all the end-to-end pieces to approach broadband as a business proposition, rather than just an entertainment product," Ozguc said.

NGC is using Maven's media systems to as a means to draw TV viewers. "They send a new video once a week, the highlighted program on that week," Ozguc said.

Viewers can "rate" the video, send it to a friend and sign up for an e-mail reminder of when the video will air. They can also call up the program schedule of the week.

"It's a great way for them to increase their audience on the cable network by tapping into the very sizable audience on their Web site," Ozguc said.

The software allows NGC to send updates automatically, updates that are transparent to the viewer.

NGC currently is sending the promo videos to a small number of subscribers culled from its email list.

Fox Entertainment Group is using Maven to send out movie trailers, especially movies geared to the younger, teen audience that is spending a lot of time online. "Fox now has an open pipe to movie fans," Ozguc said.

Virgin Records is promoting the Ben Harper CD in the same fashion, he added.

"This is happening very quickly. And MSOs stand to gain if they jump on this bandwagon, rather resisting it like the music industry," he added.

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