Comcast Scores Hip-Hop Service

Nov 7, 2005  •  Post A Comment

Advertisers are footing the bill for a new hip-hop VOD service that Comcast has agreed to carry.

Heavyweight marketers General Motors, Coca-Cola and Reebok are the initial sponsors of DoD, or Def on Demand, from the Simmons Lathan Media Group, which will be launched to Comcast digital subscribers Nov. 11.

Comcast has been hustling VOD as one of the killer applications of its digital infrastructure and is hungry for programming-especially programming it doesn’t have to pay for-because Comcast’s business model calls for providing VOD programming free to its digital subscribers.

With its ad backing, DoD fills the bill.

“We’re now starting to see programmers coming to us looking to start up what we’re calling the next generation of networks, or branded nonlinear networks. Def on Demand falls into that category,” said Matthew Strauss, VP of content development for Comcast.

“Based on the packaging and the programming that they put forward, we thought it was a very compelling offering, which is why we’re planning to launch it and make it available to all of our Comcast on Demand subscribers,” Mr. Strauss said.

Because no money is coming from Comcast, DoD’s backers hope to make money by building “deep relationships with long-term sponsors,” said Will Griffin, CEO of Def on Demand. DoD is a subsidiary of Simmons Lathan Media Group, which was founded by Mr. Griffin in partnership with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and director-producer Stan Lathan.

Def on Demand also hopes to make money by building the DoD brand and using it to promote other events, including concerts and movies, Mr. Griffin said.

In addition to commercials, DoD sponsors are contributing original content to the service.

Reebok is contributing extended video from commercial shoots with some of its endorsers, including Jay-Z, 50 Cent and NBA star Allen Iverson.

Footage from a GM commercial shoot with Detroit artists Slum Village will also be on the service, as well as long-form video featuring Coke’s Sprite mascot Thirst.

Mr. Griffin declined to say how much these sponsors were paying to be part of DoD, but said, “Over the course of these deals, they’ll be creating more exclusive content that we’ll put up.”

A spokesperson for Coca-Cola said Sprite has been involved with the hip-hop scene since the late 1980s. The company declined to say how much it is spending with DoD, but said its involvement is “pretty low-key at this point” but would allow the company to get a feel for the new technology.

Mr. Griffin said the channel will watch closely to ensure that its content is relevant to hip-hop fans. “They’ll know whether we’re really trying to program for the fan or whether it’s a channel set up to serve the sponsors,” Mr. Griffin said. “So they have to see brands they see elsewhere that they know are supportive of hip-hop and urban culture.”

DoD hopes to sign up more sponsors, but wants companies that have already been supportive of urban culture and are ready to embrace nonlinear television.

“By interacting with a lot of the sponsors and the agencies, we can get a clear sense of whether they have people within those brands and those agencies who have a commitment to really move beyond the :30 and really have the goal of trying to embed themselves in a particular culture,” Mr. Griffin said.

DoD will appear at the top of the list in Comcast on Demand’s month-old Urban Beat section.

When viewers click on a DoD program, a VJ comes on to introduce the content and acknowledge the sponsors. A ticker with information, including sponsor information, runs at the bottom of the screen.

Last week the channel started a series of local VJ searches that will be held in Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, Detroit, Dallas and Atlanta.

“Where you’re from, your neighborhood, is very important in our culture, so it’s important for us to show all facets of hip-hop that are popular and then to have people who are from those local cultures representing their cities,” Mr. Griffin said.

DoD will start with about 10 hours of content and each month will have a theme. The first theme, “Mixed tapes: the lifeblood of hip-hop,” will deal with artists who became known from their mixed tapes. It will feature biographies and interviews with 50 Cent and Eminem, as well as audio from mixed tapes.

The channel will also feature a documentary on California dance battles featuring clown and crunk dancing.

The videos will contain commercials, but those commercials will be embedded within the shows, rather than appearing at the beginning and end as they do on most VOD offerings.

With more than a billion VOD views already this year, Comcast sees on-demand as a growing ad medium.

“That’s a billion times people weren’t watching traditional linear TV,” Mr. Strauss said. “We do believe that, in the same way the Internet has created a whole new sector of advertising, that as on-demand continues to grow, more advertisers are going to migrate over to this platform,” Mr. Strauss said.

Comcast declined to provide specific figures, but Mr. Strauss said the Urban Beat category is already doing very well.

“Our real goal is to come out of the year with hip-hop and urban content having at least five of the top 20 demanded titles on Comcast,” Mr. Griffin said.