Scripps, Comcast in Brotherly VOD Bow


Scripps Networks — ever on the prowl for new ways to exploit the on-demand platform, and aware that local content has spiked traffic — approached Comcast Corp. cable executives several months ago about creating a Philadelphia-centric VOD offering.

That gambit materialized two weeks ago with the debut of "Philadelphia On Demand," which features more than 30 titles from Home & Garden Television and Food Network that reflect decidedly Philadelphian themes.

By June, Comcast plans to expand the local-content product to reference its existing local news and sports material, and to reach out to other programmers for local fare.

The strategy is designed to widen VOD use and reinforce the idea that Comcast has local content direct-broadcast satellite can't offer, said Melanie Sommer, vice president of new-products marketing for Comcast's Eastern division.

Library findings

As Comcast began an extensive VOD marketing campaign earlier this year, "we noticed that some product that contained Philadelphia in the title or was Philadelphia-centric was getting especially high orders," Sommer said. In some instances, the VOD usage rate was greater than 50 percent.

A look through the Scripps library found an Emeril
cooking show that was filmed in Philadelphia last year. Segments on the city's farmer's market and other culinary aspects were also discovered, according to Scripps New Ventures senior vice president Channing Dawson.

A search of the HGTV library turned up an historic homes segment in Philadelphia, as well as three Restore America Homes
segments, Dawson said.

The service launched with nine titles per network, Dawson said. Scripps will refresh the content with three titles every two weeks.

"Some will be shorts; some will be compilations," he said.

Scripps has a 60-day exclusive period for Philadelphia on Demand before Comcast plans to expand the category. Some Scripps content will remain, but Comcast plans to add area news and sports fare, as well as any other local content it can find, Sommer said.

"It's a great competitive advantage and an opportunity to talk to existing digital homes that may not have tried VOD yet," Sommer said. "It may bring them into the fold and for analog customers, it's another reason to upgrade to digital."

There are 30 companies supplying free on demand content to Comcast, said Sommer. "We're challenging them to look through the library to see what could be applicable."

For instance The History Channel, A&E Network and even some Comedy Central programs might have a local angle, Sommer said.

The concept could extend to other major Comcast markets in time.

"We want to prove it out in Philadelphia," she said. "We're making a decent investment from a marketing and server standpoint."

Beyond Philly

As Comcast creates the new Philadelphia On Demand, viewers will be able to access Philadelphia-specific content from those networks, as well as the established Scripps/lifestyle section. The same "double entry points" will hold for news and sports programming once that's added, Sommer said.

That content will appear in the respective news and sports sections, as well as in Philadelphia on Demand.

Philly On Demand will launch on the heels of a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign launched in January. For its Philly On Demand advertising, Scripps will use the same agency Comcast used for its initial VOD launch, which will provide continuity in the market, Dawson said.

In June, Scripps will scale back some of its Philadelphia-related content, but should benefit from the debut of Fine Living On Demand.

"We'll do 10 hours each, with 20 percent refreshed each week," Dawson said. Combined with fare from Food, Do It Yourself Network and HGTV, the addition of Fine Living will place 40 hours per month of Scripps programming on Comcast's Philadelphia server.

VOD usage rates have increased 40 percent to 50 percent each month in Philadelphia, said Dawson, with the three Scripps channels garnering 10 percent of total use.