If 2004 was marked by "Only Cable Can" and loving cable more than puppies (among other things), then the upcoming year should see the industry developing a unified message for its video-on-demand programming. That’s one of the main goals for CTAM’s On Demand Consortium, a 2-year-old advisory group of almost 50 operators, programmers and vendors looking to spread a truly cable-only VOD message to the masses. But the consortium’s path toward developing that message is expected to be bumpy. Just how it will be presented is certain to dominate the consortium’s 2005 planning meeting, scheduled for later this month in New York City. Nobody’s expecting the executives to reach an easy consensus from these discussions. Already, several members of the consortium are agitating to develop a national VOD campaign, along the lines of the long-running "Get Milk" program subsidized by dairy concerns. "It’s important to establish this as a national brand with a national definition, where people understand how to use it," says Charter corporate marketing director Robert Ladd. The problem is that the consortium’s leadership isn’t ready to launch a universal VOD message just yet. With programmers, operators and vendors each pushing for a different way to market VOD, it’s virtually impossible to develop one message that makes everyone happy. "Far be it for us to impose an identity on the public," says Scripps Networks emerging media SVP Channing Dawson, one of the consortium’s co-chairs. "It can lead to great confusion if we’re not careful." Still, several consortium members are expecting to have a message in one form or another ready to go in the next few months, timed to coincide with the upfront season this spring. Their hope is that cable can put together a VOD-specific advertising event that benefits from the publicity of the upfronts. "There’s a big benefit to this, but there needs to be a common understanding of what VOD ads can look like and how it separates from traditional TV messages," says Scott Higgins, product management director at nCube. Despite Dawson’s reservations, consortium members expect an ad campaign to be implemented this year. CTAM and the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau have been working together since last summer to develop the right message, though some consortium members, like Comcast’s newly promoted VOD VP/GM Page Thompson, are unsure if the CAB partnership will speed things along. "There’s huge interest in accelerating VOD ad development, and it’s a very complicated issue," says Tania Jones, CTAM’s marketing VP. Charter’s Ladd agrees. "National advertisers have the scale, scope and interest to make VOD ads work in an entertaining way. We have to come up with something," he says. Cost is a potential problem. It’s much pricier to hire a big agency to execute a national anti-DBS, pro-VOD campaign. One executive put the price tag at close to $500,000 for such an ad campaign to have any effectiveness. That’s well above what CTAM is accustomed to paying for its other campaigns, such as the one that promoted cable more than puppies. The issue of how consortium members pay for a big campaign is sure to be a sticking point. Should Comcast pay the most because it’s the biggest company with the most to gain? These issues still need to be hammered out. The 2005 Agenda The advertising thrust is one of four priorities topping the 2005 agenda. The others are: developing a national brand for subscription VOD; promoting DVR compatibility with VOD; developing a VOD ratings system; and rolling out ITV applications. The consortium also is planning to formalize a relationship with CableLabs to stay abreast of tech developments. One of CTAM’s boldest moves was to hire CKPR—the PR agency behind the Only Cable Can campaign—to expand the On Demand Consortium’s media outreach in 2005. CKPR is getting the word out by setting up VOD presentations at trade and consumer events and making VOD demos available to reporters via laptop PCs. But that’s where a potential stumbling block exists. Some programmers still are lukewarm about participating in a cable-only message. Many were put off by the overtly anti-DBS nature of the Only Cable Can spots, with several refusing to donate time for those spots. With DBS gaining more subs each quarter, programmers are becoming careful not to offend these important affiliate partners. Programming executives tell CableWORLD they will monitor the VOD message closely to make sure they are comfortable with it. What’s Up With the Consortium? In a little more than two years of existence, the consortium has pursued two directions: raising awareness of VOD offerings through media outreach, and recommending industry adoption of uniform icons and practices to make VOD easier to use. Executives involved in the On Demand Consortium feel the window for educating consumers about VOD may be closing. Already, DBS operators have had success marketing their DVR set-tops as having "on-demand" capabilities. "It’s a matter of getting out there in front of mainstream America and making both the message and VOD simple and accessible," says SeaChange International communications director John Coulbourn. "After all, it’s TV." Last year, the consortium used CKPR to organize consortium-backed media events at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, the Television Critics Association Tour in Los Angeles and Tavern on the Green in New York. "All of the work we did last year and before really laid the groundwork for what will be done in 2005," Comcast’s Thompson says. "The focus turns to what we do now to make the product an even bigger success. For all we’ve done, this is a product still in its infancy." In 2004, the On Demand Consortium was successful in developing VOD icon and metric guidelines. It released two sets of industry guidelines. One covers data metrics that operators and programmers should use to track VOD usage. The other, introduced two months ago, recommends icons for the on-demand screens from which customers order content. In addition to pause, rewind and search icons, one touts the on-demand service with a logo featuring words surrounded by a circle of arrows. Cable companies can use these icons in marketing or promotion campaigns. Under the leadership of CAB, the consortium’s advertising subcommittee is testing the data infrastructure for VOD advertising. "Part of our goal, given this is one of the biggest competitive differentiators cable has against DBS, is to get consistent about what makes VOD work or work better," CTAM’s Jones says. "The more consistent we can be as an industry, the more powerful this medium becomes and the more payoffs we’ll get." Unfortunately, the guidelines are toothless. Nobody actually enforces them. The consortium has no power to make any company in the industry adopt them, says Rebecca Lin, Starz Encore Group’s ITV tech director. "We’ve published metrics and icons, but there’s no way to enforce them," she says. "How do you make a foundation for that?" Herding Cats Despite the inherent difficulties of having nearly 50 companies reach consensus, Dawson and his consortium co-chair Thompson are moving forward with their agenda, which they will release at the planning meeting later this month. "It’s hard to manage a group of this size. This is a group of deeply passionate and intelligent people," Dawson says. "We’re taking on the 50-year history of linear TV and introducing a whole new business model, with the parameters to be fully defined. In about two to three years, we’ll have the convergence of VOD, broadband and all-digital Internet Protocol TV. We have to consider how that comes together, plus how both TV and advertising must adapt to that world." The consortium’s toughest task will be balancing the needs and viewpoints of the group’s diverse membership. Unlike similar groups, the On Demand Consortium has corporate, not individual, members. That means that each company pays for a spot on the committee, giving bigger companies like Comcast and Disney/ESPN more clout. Other CTAM committees are made up of individuals, not companies. "At least this gets us all in the room together to work together, then hit the streets and promote cable’s unique advantage with VOD," says SeaChange’s Coulbourn. Starz’s Lin agrees. "Just being there as a platform for people to come together with different ideas and business models is an accomplishment. There’s no other venue for that. It’s better than everyone slamming up against the wall by themselves." CTAM’s On Demand Consortium: 2005 Goals CTAM’s On Demand Consortium plans to set its agenda for the year at its first meeting later this month. Some of the goals under discussion: Organizing a national campaign to promote VOD as a national brand; Launching discussions with ad agencies, media buyers and sponsors regarding VOD; Integrating VOD marketing with promos for DVRs, HDTV, cable phone and, eventually, interactive TV and home networking; and Targeting promotions to people of color. The Consortium’s Membership More than 100 people are involved in the On Demand Consortium, meeting in person up to four times a year, or on monthly conference calls. A working group of almost 50 companies, the consortium is divided into three subcommittees: public relations, particularly in terms of reaching out to the consumer press; advertising; and a user interface group that this year released best practices for VOD menu screens and a glossary of on-demand terms. MSOs Adelphia
Bright House
Cable One
Time Warner Cable Programmers A&E
Court TV
NBC Universal
NFL Network
Starz Encore
The Weather Channel
TV Guide Vendors Atlas DMT
SeaChange International Others AOL Broadband
Brainstorm Comm.
Buena Vista TV
Hillcress Comm.
In Demand
Music Choice
Nielsen Media Research
Tribune Media Services
TV Guide
TVN Entertainment
Universal Studios
Warner Home Video
WWE Consultants/Project Managers CKPR
Dove Consulting

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