VOD in Marketing Mix

Oct 31, 2005  •  Post A Comment

National Geographic Channel is implementing a new strategy to offer unique on-demand content each month in an effort to use VOD as a marketing platform for the linear network.

The strategy, which will begin in December with “The Dog Whisperer,” involves offering video-on-demand content that complements the network’s on-air lineup with tie-ins to show premieres and specials.

Only a handful of basic programmers have crafted unique on-demand content, citing the costs and the unclear financial model for VOD given that advertising issues for the medium are unresolved. But National Geographic Channel believes unique VOD content is a necessary marketing cost and the on-demand platform represents an opportunity to capitalize on the channel’s new philosophy that it’s a “360-degree digital brand” with broadband, on-demand and wireless components-and high definition due soon with the planned January launch of an HD channel.

Because National Geographic Channel is not fully distributed, reaching about 56 million homes, the digital strategy is its point of distinction, said Steve Schiffman, executive VP of marketing and new media for the network. “We’re a little hungrier because we need to be,” he said, adding that Fox Cable Networks, the distribution arm for National Geographic, is also pitching the concept of “Geo-sodes,” or short clips, to cellular carriers.

VOD Extras

The unique VOD content will be similar to DVD extras, with behind-the-scenes material, making-of clips and outtakes, for instance. Other basic networks have talked about developing such material, but few have done so.

Premium networks have offered unique content on-demand-for example, HBO’s interviews with cast members for shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage” and audio commentary for “Rome” episodes. But HBO has a different financial model because it relies on subscriptions. National Geographic Channel is ad-supported and is taking a bigger chance, in part because basic programmers still lack an effective VOD measurement system.

National Geographic Channel is in 11 million VOD homes on Time Warner, Comcast and Insight systems. Earlier this year National Geographic experimented with unique VOD content by offering behind-the-scenes clips from “Hannibal v Rome.” That material was available only on Comcast On Demand, which represents 60 percent of National Geographic Channel’s on-demand universe, but it was the network’s third-most-popular VOD program in September in its entire 11 million-household footprint, in part because it was promoted on the Comcast barker channel.

That success was a catalyst to develop more original on-demand material. In mid-December, the channel will add fresh content to VOD in advance of the January premiere of “The Dog Whisperer” as the show makes the jump from daytime to prime time. The content will include six past episodes, a highlight clip from the previous season, a sneak preview of the coming season and dog training tips. The show’s host, Cesar Millan, will introduce the VOD material.

In addition, the network plans to add the current episodes to VOD three to four weeks after they air. Most networks do not offer the current season’s episodes on-demand.

In January, National Geographic will deliver four customized two- to three-minute clips related to the Jan. 29 premiere of the special “Relentless Enemies,” about water buffalo and lions. The filmmakers will shoot stand-ups, and the material will include show excerpts and footage not seen in the special, said Brad Dancer, VP of research and on-demand at National Geographic Channel.

“People are looking for something different on VOD. We have the opportunity to experiment and we have good behind-the-scenes stuff that doesn’t make the air that we can take advantage of,” he said.

In February the network will serve on-demand short overview clips for “Everyday Explorer,” the network’s public affairs curriculum for middle schoolers.

Mr. Dancer said the cost to produce such material is incremental to production and does not warrant a line item on a budget. But the network likely will underwrite some of the production costs as it gains more advertisers for the medium. VOD advertisers already slated for the first quarter are PepsiCo, Honda, Acura, Nissan, Best Buy and Microsoft. National Geographic Channel was one of 12 networks to sign on for Rentrak’s VOD measurement services earlier this month.

Original content can help on-demand move past the perception that it’s merely the next iteration of pay-per-view, said Paul Rule, president of Marquest Media & Entertainment Research.

“The linear network drives viewers to the on-demand offering, which in turn adds more information, depth and convenience-building awareness and encouraging viewing frequency for the linear network,” he said. “The more a network does to enhance the viewing experience, the more reasons they give existing viewers to visit more often and stay longer and the more likely they are to attract new viewers.”

Mr. Schiffman believes the additional VOD and broadband homes create a more attractive package for potential National Geographic Channel advertisers.

Next up will be the “Geo-sodes,” one- to two-minute clips from nature and animal shows. The network will repurpose material from the 400 digitized clips in its broadband library.

National Geographic will face competition on that front. Rival Discovery Networks is in talks with cellular carriers about short clips for mobile phones too.