Mag Rack Takes Fresh Approach

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

One of cable’s pioneer video-on-demand services just got a facelift. Mag Rack debuted a new look late last month, nearly two years after introducing its service.
The changes the service has made may serve as a model for the industry, since Mag Rack is tackling two key issues-the refresh rate and the user interface-that are being closely evaluated by other content providers.
The Rainbow Media-owned company conducted extensive consumer research analysis with Sapient Research in 2002, which indicated the need for a more consumer-friendly interface. Mag Rack has now made changes to its user interface, navigation and presentation to better organize the material and to make the content newsier and more current. In addition, content is now updated 25 percent each week and refreshed completely each month. Mag Rack includes an “expiration date” with each title, instead of its past practice of occasionally refreshing the material.
The goal is to create a basic VOD tier, destination viewing for on-demand customers when they turn on the TV, said Matt Strauss, executive VP and general manager at Mag Rack.
One of the key issues arising from the research is that consumers feel little urgency to view on-demand content since not all of it is refreshed regularly, he said. Under the new model, consumers access a new Mag Rack each month.
“The refresh rate is absolutely critical. That was the number one issue facing Mag Rack, so we decided to do it every week,” Mr. Strauss said. “If you don’t refresh on a consistent basis that’s easily communicated, people aren’t going to watch.”
The notion of appointment viewing doesn’t exist in an on-demand world, which is why defining a window of use and a cutoff date for content is essential, said Lee Hunt, a marketing consultant and member of the Archipelago consortium who has worked with Mag Rack’s parent company, Rainbow Media. “To create variety you have to rotate the products, and you do that by [getting the consumer to say], `Gee, I have to see it right away,”’ he said.
Based on feedback, some magazines will be offered as special features at certain times throughout the year. For instance, “Classic Cars” has been integrated into “Your Next Car;” “Shakespeare,” “Modern Parent” and “Art & Artists” will be run as special features at specific times of the year; “Total Ski” and “Total Snowboard” are on seasonal hiatus; and “Better Golf Club,” “SportsCamp,” “Tennis Zone” and “The Bible and You” are no longer available on Mag Rack.
The service launched with only 10 magazines and now offers about 25 at any given time. Initially, Mag Rack was designed to serve as an encyclopedia on TV, but that model is more appropriate for the Internet, since TV is still a leisure experience, Mr. Strauss said.
“We have embraced more of the magazine concept,” he said. “People know they will get it every week and month.”
The service has reworked its user interface to include more graphics. “Imagine walking into a Blockbuster and every tape is turned the other way. Most interfaces don’t support graphics or box art,” Mr. Strauss said. “What we are trying to do is use graphics where we can, to use pictures to cross-promote and let people know what’s there.”
In addition, content is now organized like a magazine, with a “cover story” called “1st Up” that provides overall context to the entire video magazine features that month. The Sony interface will even feature a “magazine” cover for each month’s edition. Mag Rack also includes new graphics, music and intro branding and increased cross-promotion within magazines, said Michael Connor, senior VP, programming and production.
The CTAM On-Demand Consortium is also tackling the issue of the interface and how to make it more compelling for users, said Bob Davis of Dove Consulting. He heads the consortium for CTAM.