In session after session at last month's National Show in Atlanta, cable touted the importance of video-on-demand in their competitive strategies. But what are the five largest operators actually doing?
MCN's VOD Scorecard tracks the deployment, on-demand usage and strategies for the five largest cable operators: Comcast Corp., Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications Inc., Charter Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. Because the operators were in the middle of reporting first quarter earnings at press time, subscriber data is generally for the end of 2005.
There are also wide differences in the kind of data they release — three released only limited data on usage — and how it is defined. Adelphia Communications Corp. was not included because its pending acquisition by Time Warner Cable and Comcast will change its strategies.
Time Warner Cable
Basic subscribers: 10,910,000
Digital subscribers: 4,909,000
Data subscribers: 4,304,000
Phone subscribers: 372,000
VOD deployment: Potentially available all the 19 million homes passed by Time Warner Cable; all digital-cable subscribers can view on-demand content.
VOD programming: Not Available
VOD usage: About 73 million streams were delivered in December 2005, or about 29 streams per user each month, up nearly 42% from December 2004.
Subscription VOD is the most popular category with about 40% of total usage, followed by music on demand (30%), free on-demand programming (16%) and movies on demand (13%).
Among the subscription on-demand services, Home Box Office and Cinemax were the most popular, accounting for 73% of SVOD usage.
VOD Strategies: Besides adding content, Time Warner has also added more high-profile broadcast and network fare, while developing such services as Start Over that allow viewers to restart programs that have already begun. The company is widely deploying interactive systems and is using that capability to allow consumers to interact with VOD content.
On the ad sales side, it has deployed specialized sponsored areas for auto, movies, travel and music, with more to come this year. It is already using interactive systems to enhance VOD sponsorship efforts and expects to deploy interactive ads in its New York City system later this year.
Basic subscribers: 21,449,000
Digital subscribers: 9,789,000
data subscribers: 8,520,000
Phone subscribers: 1,321,000
VOD deployment: After launching video on demand in 2002, on-demand programming is now available in 94% of Comcast's service area, up from about 85% in the first quarter of 2005.
VOD programming: Comcast offers one of the largest selections of on-demand programming with over 4,000 programs available at any one time, up from about 2,200 in the first quarter of 2005.
Over the course of a month, as content is refreshed, about 7,000 different programs are available.
VOD usage: In February 2006, 127 million programs were viewed, up from 87 million a year earlier. Digital-cable subscribers use the service more than 20 times a month; over three quarters of the digital subscribers have used video on demand in the last 90 days.
(Unlike the other operators that count streams each time a program is started or restarted, Comcast counts a view only once, which lowers its usage numbers.)
VOD strategies: Free VOD has been the centerpiece of Comcast's strategy and the operator continues to add significant amounts of free on-demand content to drive overall VOD usage and revenues for SVOD and movies on demand.
To improve the quality of content, Comcast inked deals with CBS and NBC Universal to air some popular TV shows for 99 cents per month and is working on additional deals. It is also adding services, such as Karaoke, that offer interactive features and on demand programming for ethnic audiences.
On the ad sales side, Comcast Spotlight has been a leader in building specific sites for autos and real estate in an effort to pry classified money away from newspapers.
The company is in trials for a staged roll out of dynamic insertion ad tools from Tandberg Television and works with Rentrak Corp. on measurement.
Basic subscribers: 6,300,432
Digital Subscribers: 2,704,161
Data Subscribers: 3,143,313
Phone Subscribers: 1,683,636
VOD deployment: Cox first launched video on demand service in San Diego in 2004, but on demand is now available in 9 markets serving more than half of all Cox subscribers.
The company expects 70% availability by end of 2006 and total coverage by end of 2007.
VOD programming: Over 1,300 hours.
VOD usage: Not Available
VOD strategies: In 2005, Cox bulked up content offerings by adding free on-demand and subscription VOD content premium networks.
Its FreeZone area are now has free on-demand content from 22 providers. It is looking to add more local programming and improve navigation system.
On the ad sales side, it has ad-supported on-demand channels with long-form advertising and ad supported commercial content in the FreeZone section in all video-on-demand markets.
Basic subscribers: 5,884,500
Digital Subscribers: 2,796,600
Data Subscribers: 2,196,400
Phone Subscribers: 121,500
VOD deployment: Sixty-five percent of Charter's digital-cable subscribers could access video-on-demand at the end of 2005.
VOD programming: Over 1,200 hours of programming.
VOD usage: No specific numbers on usage but total streams in first quarter of 2006 were up by 147% over a year earlier and 2,100% from first quarter of 2004, when Charter began marketing video on demand.
VOD strategies: Also spent much of the last year expanding its on-demand programming, adding about 20 content providers. About 20% of content is free and Charter is looking to expand that. Subscription services, such as Karaoke, have done particularly well and the operator is also looking to add more subscription VOD content.
On the ad sales side, a relatively large interactive TV footprint of about 850,000 can be used to enhance on-demand advertising efforts. It works with Rentrak on measurement.
Basic subscribers: 3,027,000
Digital Subscribers: 1,900,000
Data Subscribers: 1,694,300
Phone Subscribers: 731,300
VOD deployment: Available in Cablevision's entire service area, which passes 4.48 million homes. All of the operator's digital subscribers can access video on demand.
VOD programming: Over 1,300 hours.
VOD usage: Not Available
VOD Strategies: Subscribers to the company's iO Interactive Optimum digital package have access to about 1,200 hours of pay and subscription VOD programming each month and a more limited offering of about 150 hours of free on-demand programming from Mag Rack, and others. Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. has also been developing on-demand content through Mag Rack and Sportskool.
On the ad sales side, Cablevision has been one of the most aggressive MSOs, building special channels and areas for auto and real estate companies and using its interactive TV applications, which are deployed throughout the footprint, to collect leads for advertisers.