The MSO’s iO campaign depicts VOD as the great differentiator with DBS—and it contained a coded message directed at content providers. That message: We stepped up with marketing, you step up with exclusive content. By Simon Applebaum Cablevision is taking video on demand on a new programming and promotional course this month, now that more than 1 million New York City metro area households can get that option as one of many in their Interactive Optimum, or iO, digital service. As more programming becomes available (more than 1,000 titles can be ordered), the VOD and subscription VOD product has gone from being iO’s "sweet spot" to "the competitive differentiator for us against DBS," says Kristin Dolan, SVP, digital and video product management. Cablevision is pushing that message to its subscribers, as it is showcasing VOD in iO broadcast and cross-channel TV messages, print ads and posters on Long Island Rail Road and MetroNorth station platforms. Unlike past campaigns, in which VOD was cast as a tune-in attraction, this push pits cable’s VOD service and, by extension, iO, against DBS, by comparing iO and DBS features side by side. The obvious conclusion: DBS can’t offer VOD. Simultaneously, Cablevision is insisting that its VOD program suppliers deliver more exclusive content more quickly. Disney Channel stepped up earlier this month, when it said it would run new series premieres on SVOD 24 hours ahead of their run on the network. New live-action sitcom Phil of the Future will go that route in June, followed by toon Brandy and Mr. Whiskers two months later. Cablevision also will offer an on-screen interactive trading card game based on Disney Channel’s popular Kim Possible show this fall. Recent discussions with other suppliers have been as fruitful, Dolan says. She anticipates more first-run premieres on the level of Disney’s SVOD effort as well as some unique content experiments. "We’re pushing everyone to give us exclusive content, to give more people reasons to watch on demand, whether it’s the Disney action or HBO putting a whole season of The Sopranos on two weeks before the first episode premieres," Dolan explains. "A lot of time and effort on our part goes to secure content because this is something DBS can’t do. For customers, VOD helps gives them more opportunity to control their TV experience. We use every tool and venue we can to promote this except smoke signals." SVOD packages from Disney, HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Anime Network, Atom Television and Playboy TV drew usage from 34% of iO’s household universe on a recurring basis at the end of 2003, up from 18% at the end of 2002, according to Cablevision. Monthly on-demand revenue per iO customer reached $5.72 when 2003 ended, up from $3.97 the previous year—and VOD was used more than five times a month per customer the last quarter of 2003 alone. The SVOD packages, consisting of 25-to-100 hours apiece, cost $4.95 a month except for Anime, which is available for $6.95 a month. A la carte movies available for 24-hour rental comprise 30% of Cablevision’s monthly VOD fare. New releases go for $4.95 each, library titles cost $2.95 and adult titles (available for six-hour rental periods) cost $6.95. Content from Mag Rack, the collection of original video magazines from Cablevision subsidiary Rainbow Media, comes free to iO subscribers, as do titles from Rainbow’s Sportskool venture and shows from local public TV station WNET-Channel 13. Also free are HD programs, including IMAX-format films and nature shows from various suppliers; 21 HD titles are available this month. Also available (depending on the area) is World Picks, a set of VOD titles aimed at ethnic audiences; Cablevision offers Latino, Hindu/Indian and Russian World Picks packages. Marketing campaigns for ethnic VOD include commercials on Spanish- and Russian-language radio stations, website placements and flyers passed out on street corners. Russian and Hindu users have been willing to complement those buys with SVOD and adoption of other advanced services, Dolan says. As for future product, Dolan says, "We’re looking at everything, including work from new digital channel wannabees. "But I’m not using VOD as a precursor to network carriage."