BY SHIRLEY BRADY
Comcast’s souped-up Philadelphia VOD model is now available to 700,000 subscribers in New Jersey. Like Philly, more than 1,000 hours of on-demand content are divided into three “buckets.” The first bucket is free content (no additional charge), accounting for 80% of the lineup and including 140 shows from A&E, History, Comedy Central, Court TV, Sundance, DIY, Food Network, HGTV, Wisdom and Bloomberg TV. Also included are 82 titles from Atom Films, the Anime Network and Primedia’s Video Magazine Rack. Bucket two offers 200 movies from InDemand, at $2.95 to $3.95. Bucket three offers 115 SVOD titles from Showtime and the Movie Channel. In the coming weeks, a SeaChange server will encode, in real time, morning and evening newscasts from WNBC in New York plus national shows from NBC News. About 55% of the Philly digi-subs have tried the expanded VOD service, with 90% coming back for more.
••• “VOD is a great way to get people familiar with our programming,” says Tom Fennell, VP of affiliate sales for Wisdom TV. In its first two months on Comcast’s Philly VOD rollout, Wisdom averaged two programs per unique VOD user. The most popular titles touted notable names such as Deepak Chopra. With ten new hours of VOD content available each month, the biggest request Wisdom is hearing from MSOs? Yoga, yoga and more yoga. ••• Time Warner Cable is getting ready to launch “Answers on Demand.” Already on its website, the TV channel will offer video tutorials on digital cable. Topics include how to purchase a movie on demand, custom settings, technical troubleshooting, the digital remote control and using the program guide. Julie Simon, senior director of advanced technology, will unveil the initiative at the CTAM Digital Conference April 8-11 in New Orleans. ••• TWC’s Mike Hayashi said the MSO remains committed to time-shifted viewing despite early hiccups with integrated DVRs in set-top boxes and network-based on-demand services. At a CableLabs conference on March 12, the SVP of advanced engineering and advanced technologies said the complicated software stack for Scientific-Atlanta Explorer 8000 DVRs saw a few glitches out of the gate, although most bugs were nipped in testing. TWC also felt teething pains with its launch of SVOD in Manhattan, where consumer response overwhelmed the system’s capabilities. “The good news is, it’s very popular,” Hayashi said. The MSO is hard at work on MystroTV, its uber-network-based model that combines DVR and VOD functionality at the head-end, with teams in New York and Denver working out the service kinks. TiVo-fearing execs will appreciate its ability to insert ads when the viewer hits pause, and the lack of ad-skipping and program copying. ••• Proud papa (and Discovery Communications Inc. chairman) John Hendricks noted at its upfront in New York last week that his baby — the Discovery HD Theater — is now the #1 high-definition channel among Cox Communications’ hi-def subscribers. Cox now offers HDTV service in 40% of the digital homes it passes, reaching subs in Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Cleveland, Omaha, Neb., Las Vegas, San Diego and Northern Virginia. Now signed up for ESPN HD, Cox is looking at adding HDNet to its lineup. ••• Comcast’s Southern California region is launching HDTV in May, according to regional SVP Debi Picciolo. The plan is to have six channels at launch and three more up by the end of the year. Picciolo wants to reorder the channel lineup before launching VOD and SVOD, with more free on-demand content to follow, later this year. Its Atlanta market just launched HDTV, offering HBO and Showtime plus local CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates — and the upcoming Master’s Golf Tournament starting April 11 — in hi-def. ••• Cablevision is selling unlimited VoIP phone service — dubbed Optimum Voice — for $34.95 a month to Optimum Online customers in its New York cluster. The company previously tested circuit-switch telephony in Long Island. Comcast is adding 500 homes to its low-key 75-home VoIP test in Chester County, Penn., in April. Are you testing, launching, expanding or just plain creatively marketing VOD, HSD, HDTV, DVR, ITV, VoIP, a new IPG or another of cable’s acronyms?