VOD: Best Defense Against Cord-Cutting

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In all the hoopla over networks putting their shows for free online, cable operators are smart to quietly continue improving the network-based technology that lets their customers pick what they want to watch — on the TV.

Video-on-demand, including primetime hits.

Sites like Hulu and ABC.com reinforce the idea that consumers will even sit through a short ad or two without fast-forwarding if it's a show they want to see.

That's why Cox Communications is on the right track to expand its MyPrimetime service, which has next-day hits from ABC, NBC, FX and seven other networks, with non-skippable ads in the shows.

Not on a computer screen — on the 42-inch, HD flat-screen Samsung in the family room.

“We think that the majority of customers want their content, to their television, when they want it,” Dallas Clement, senior vice president of strategy and development at Cox, said during the Cable Show in Washington, D.C. “So you're going to see us launch MyPrimetime with more programmers into more markets this year. That's a big focus for us.” Omaha, Neb., and Santa Barbara, Calif., added it this month.

Work those authentication programs, MSOs. Add value to the cable bill by enabling customers to access their services on the computer or mobile devices. But don't neglect adding convenience to the core multichannel-video product — the one that, news stories to the contrary, people aren't dropping in any large numbers yet.

Cox also has invested in a new electronic program guide, from NDS, that will be “more intuitive and easier for search-and-discovery of content, both linear and on demand,” Clement said. “The most important video application is the guide.”

As our Todd Spangler has reported, Cox's new guide, using Tru2way specifications, “will layer in a wide range of interactive apps with NDS's help, including: caller ID and e-mail on the TV, news, sports, weather, games, movie listings, a 'mosaic' view of multiple channels, horoscopes, lottery results and customer-care services.”

I haven't used MyPrimetime but I have enjoyed, when visiting relatives with Comcast in Philadelphia, being able to watch on-demand the CSI I missed that week or one of the many free movies in Comcast's VOD library. (Charley Varrick anyone?)

Cox also is getting into the wireless phone business; expanding commercial services; participating in the Canoe Ventures addressable-advertising venture; bumping up high-speed Internet service in some markets to 50 megabits per second (“that's not a hard technology”) and overhauling its customer Web site for the first time eight or more years, making it easier to order services and pay bills, Clement said.

“The hardest thing we do these days is prioritize,” he said.

Improving the video experience should always be at or near the top of that priority list.

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