By Shirley Brady Among the many acronyms making news at Anaheim was a clearer DVR picture for Comcast. Brian Roberts kicked off the final Western Show by announcing his MSO is getting into DVR “big time next year” by rolling out the service in the first quarter using Motorola set-tops and software from TV Guide. Comcast expects to have DVR available to 90% of its subs by the end of ’04. This summer it tested DVR service for multiple TV sets via home networking using Samsung digital set-tops and Ucentric Systems software in its Philly market. Other Comcast markets now getting DVR service include central New Jersey and its Washington, D.C., Metro market including Manassas, Va. Charter also just flipped the switch on DVR service in its So. Cal. system. Many panelists addressing Western’s final crowd focused on the need for an advanced-services preemptive strike against the Rupert Murdoch-run DirecTV. Time Warner Cable took up the gauntlet, announcing a deal with OpenCable-friendly Vidiom Systems—a company Roberts also praised—to develop ITV applications for Time Warner’s digital platform in ’04. Vidiom demoed a variety of OCAP 1.0 applications in the pipeline for TWC on Scientific-Atlanta’s 3250 HD set-top box at the show; S-A also introduced its HD/DVR set-top, the Explorer 8000HD. Time Warner Cable’s MystroTV test site, Green Bay, will be the first of its markets to launch the box. Video on demand still generates buzz. Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt predicted in Anaheim that SVOD “will be very powerful” as a supplement to existing channels and Comcast reiterated its vow to have VOD “everywhere” by the end of next year. Comcast SVP of marketing and new products Andy Addis shared results showing VOD’s ability to combat churn. The company saw a spike when Showtime on Demand was added earlier this year and an even bigger one when HBO on Demand was launched in October, after which overall VOD usage nearly doubled. The average viewer now uses Comcast on Demand a dozen times monthly, and usage has increased about 700% each month during the past year. In October alone, about 45% of all digital subs with the service ordered at least one program, or double the take rate of December 2002. Addis also said HD VOD, already being talked up in its Eastern divison, is a-comin’ with an initial menu of up to five hi-def titles to whet subs’ appetite. Comcast officially announced its rollout of Starz on Demand (already available to some of its subs) and Starz HD. Starz plans to offer a robust lineup of 100 VOD movies titles a month as part of its subscription offering. Charter launched Starz on Demand in St. Louis while Cox is bringing Starz HD to its Phoenix market, which has been promoting HD with a “Striker Program” in which college students hit Best Buy stores at peak hours to chat up the value of hi-def. Cox Arizona VP/GM Steve Rizley said at CTAM’s pre-Western lunch that one of its so-called strikers made 146 sales in a single day. (Give that kid a full-time gig, quick!) ESPN announced its sports double-header—HD VOD—in Anaheim, with plans to launch with one college football and basketball game per week. Bowl games including the Peach Bowl will appear on HD VOD, while hoops coverage from the Big East and Big Ten tournaments are slated for ESPN HD and VOD in March. Other tidbits from Anaheim: the NCTA said cable-enabled HD is now available in 96 of the top 100 TV markets (and all of the top 30) in the U.S. for a total of 143 markets overall…Time Warner Cable is launching National Geographic Channel on Demand, a 10-hour, free VOD offering, in 22 markets including Syracuse, Los Angeles, San Antonio and Houston…N2 Broadband and Gotuit Media are goosing VOD searches by integrating their respective technologies…Mag Rack talked up the first of its four seasonal promotions slated for next year: “A New You” features yoga and light cooking content to help help keep those New Year’s resolutions…TVN is bringing VOD content to Ohio’s BuckEye CableSystem (and made a pact with MGM to license titles from its mammoth library of movies)…TV Guide Interactive demoed two new IPG products for digital cable: its “blue guide” featuring DVR functionality and a quick-access menu plus its best-in-class “i-guide.” InDemand’s Winter Mega Movies campaign, premiering a dozen titles including Terminator 3, is running throughout January and February. Dual sweepstakes promote VOD and NVOD to participating digital cable systems, with an HDTV prize as one of the sweeteners. Are you testing, launching, expanding or just plain creatively marketing VOD, HSD, HDTV, DVR, ITV, VoIP, or any other cable acronym? Drop a line to [email protected].

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