Video E-Mail Flies in Philadelphia


Television viewers in the Philadelphia area may begin to notice a preponderance of Comcast Corp. subscribers participating in a daily “Consumer Alert” feature on the City of Brotherly Love’s NBC TV station.

Comcast customers aren’t complaining about the operator. Rather, they’re using the MSO’s new video e-mail product to send questions about paying taxes, home improvement and other consumer issues that are raised during the station’s “Ask Tracy” segments.

The segments are the result of a deal the nation’s largest MSO cut with WCAU-TV. Comcast gets unique ways to show its video mail system in action, while the NBC owned-and-operated station gains marketing support for its local newscasts from cross-channel promos that Comcast began running earlier this month.

Comcast executives said no cash is being exchanged with WCAU as part of the marketing effort.

“We’re not looking to get money; we’re not looking to give money. What we’re looking to do is bring something to the consumers that they wouldn’t get through any other technology or any other company,” said Michael Doyle, president of Comcast’s Eastern division.

While many local broadcasters and cable operators continue to butt heads over issues such as retransmission consent, Comcast connected with WCAU in 2002, when it began offering the station’s local newscasts through its free on-demand platform, in addition to NBC’s Nightly News and The Today Show.

Doyle said the video e-mail promotions are an outgrowth of the relationship Comcast built through the VOD distribution agreement. Comcast also doesn’t pay for the VOD content, he added.

Comcast launched its Video Mail service last July, offering it to all of its high-speed Internet customers for free. Subscribers use webcams to record the messages which are uploaded to a Comcast server.

Recipients of the video e-mails receive a Web link that allows them to access the messages on Comcast’s server, eliminating the need to attach large files to the e-mails.

In addition to running cross-channel promos, Comcast is promoting the ability to send video mail for the “Ask Tracy” segments through its Web portal, and the company will also trumpet the segments in bill stuffers, according to Doyle.

WCAU touts the “Ask Tracy” feature through its own on-air promos. Moreover, anchor Tracy Davidson also explained how the Video Mail system works in one segment. Viewers that don’t have access to Comcast Video Mail can also send text e-mails to the program the old-fashioned way.

While broadcast remains a one-way platform, WCAU general manager Dennis Bianchi noted in the announcement of the new Video Mail-enhanced telecasts that the technology allows the station to offer its viewers a way to interact with the station’s news team.

“From the launch of HDTV in 2001 to the addition of NBC 10 news content to our on-demand lineup, we have worked together to deliver services that are interactive, entertaining and informative for our customers and viewers,” Bianchi said. “The addition of Video Mail is a further example of converging technologies to take interactivity to the next level and connect people to what’s important in their lives.”