As Mag Rack recasts its programming approach, the niche video-on-demand service is also refining its marketing tactics by reaching out to specific-interest groups via viral efforts.
Starting this summer, all Mag Rack affiliates will get a 40-hour package of core programming, consisting of 20 "video magazine" titles per month. Each title focuses on a particular interest or hobby, ranging from motorcycles to Roman Catholicism.
Additional hours and titles will be provided to operators on an optional basis, at their request.
Currently, Mag Rack offers a suite of as many as 34 such titles per month, adding up to 80 hours of first-run content available in some areas, and more than 100 hours elsewhere.
Based on affiliate feedback, 40 hours is "the sweet spot" for Mag Rack, as cable systems adjust their video-server capacity needs to on-demand fare or upgrade that capacity. On average, operators have about 800 to 1,200 hours of server capacity available for VOD.
"It's standardizing the situation so that we can offer a wide variety of video magazines and not take too much capacity away from the operator. As capacity grows, we'll grow the national package," said Mag Rack general manager Matthew Strauss.
The decision was affiliate-driven and not a cost-cutting move by parent Rainbow Media Holdings Inc., he added.
As a result, some Mag Rack titles will run quarterly or on a seasonal basis. Snowboarding will get play in the winter, while gardening will appear over the spring and summer months. However, all 20 titles running in the national package will be refreshed in their entirety, with new material each month.
Refreshed premieres will be spaced throughout the month.
Insight Communications Co. quietly incorporated the 40-hour model on a random basis last fall, and now offers Mag Rack in all of its markets. Charter Communications Inc., which could launch the service this summer, will use the model from the outset.
Strauss said another MSO is "knocking on the table," for an affiliate contract that could be finalized within the next few weeks.
Looking to increase both audience and usage, Mag Rack is tapping databases to distribute direct mail pieces to leaders of local clubs or organizations connected to the niche subject matter. For example, motorcycle club chieftains will receive packages with information about Motorcycle Freedom, one of the VOD series Mag Rack offers each month.
The package also alerts the club leaders and their members to watch out for an e-mail the following week, with details on Mag Rack, how they can get it free with their cable operator's digital tier and how to participate in a sweepstakes.
Insight's Louisville, Ky., system was the first Mag Rack affiliate to participate in this campaign, which officials label an "affinity influencer" approach to viral marketing. Other Insight systems and Rainbow parent Cablevision Systems Corp.'s operations in metropolitan New York City kicked off similar direct mail/e-mail programs last week.
"We're out to use segmentation in a way it hasn't been done in the past," said marketing vice president Beth Sanford. "The process is viral, because you move the process forward from the club leaders to their members, just to motivate people into watching."
Right now, the campaign is directed at leaders of clubs in five areas—cars, motorcycles, yoga, weddings and employment counseling. The package contains letters written by the hosts of the Mag Rack titles catering to each subject, so that it gives "a stamp of authenticity" to each mailing, Sanford said.
In the e-mail blitz, viewers have four options: click on a clip from the highlighted Mag Rack title; enter an attendant sweepstakes; log on Mag Rack's Web site for more information; and pass the e-mail along to a friend.
Affiliates will also be encouraged to supplement the direct mail and e-mail with local events. In Louisville, Insight co-sponsored a classic car show a few weeks ago, drawing hundreds of people to a demonstration area, where it touted digital and high-speed services.
Cross-channel messages supported both the local event and the mail campaign.
The tough end of the stick for Mag Rack is calculating the impact these campaigns will have on viewership and usage. "It's a challenge to get all the tracking information from the operators," acknowledged Sanford. "We'll immediately have a fix on how many people use the Web site [www.magrack.com]. Beyond that, it will take time to get the measurable result."