BY ANTHONY CRUPI Here’s a scenario for you: You’re sitting around the house on a cold January afternoon. You’ve been told by your local cable company that they’ve got a surprise in store for you, which is why you’re home in the middle of the week. Trucks pull up outside of your house at odd intervals and sit there, idling. A camera crew sets up shop on your front lawn. Then, just after 1 o’clock, there’s a knock on the door. You open up, and Joan Rivers is standing on the porch, a red carpet snaking down the driveway behind her. Whoa. Such was the giddily weird scene last week at the Philadelphia home of Mark and Ruth Joffe, Comcast subscribers and lucky winners of a sweepstakes that marks the start of a campaign to educate customers about the virtues of the MSO’s On Demand service. Comcast launched its VOD offering to more than 600,000 digital homes in the Philadelphia, south Jersey and northern Delaware area a few weeks ago (the largest such rollout to date, based on the system’s 2.5 million homes); the initial stage of the promotional campaign is set to run from four to six weeks. It’s a huge leap of faith to flip a switch and make VOD available to more than half a million digital customers, but Comcast says it’s ready and raring to go. “We’re more than ready for this,” said Michael Snyder, VP of marketing and sales for Comcast’s Eastern division. “I was just doing a live demo of this for a bunch of reporters. Trust me, I wouldn’t have done this if I wasn’t absolutely certain it was going to work.” Interestingly, the comedienne took a great interest in the On Demand demonstration as well. Rivers watched the presentation intently, Mark Joffe said, and provided running commentary throughout. “If you could lock it so that people could only watch QVC and E!, that would be nice,” Rivers remarked, making a pitch for the two cable networks with which she is professionally associated. Mark Joffe, a 46-year-old physician from Philadelphia’s Wynnewood neighborhood, said that since his family began receiving VOD service, they’ve been hooked. “It’s been a bit of a movie-fest around here lately,” Joffe said. “We have a whole bunch of kids and a lot of social commitments, so the ability to start and stop a program at our convenience is crucial. Once we get comfortable with everything they have to offer, we’ll start looking at content outside of the movie offerings.” (Note to Comcast: Sign this guy up as a PR agent.) According to Snyder, Comcast offers 1,000 to 1,200 hours of on-demand content per month in 18 systems throughout the country. Comcast on Friday also announced content agreements with eight programmers, including BBC America, Bloomberg, Fox Cable Networks, Primedia, Sundance Channel and Turner.

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