Total On-Demand Comes Into View

Apr 17, 2006  •  Post A Comment

With video-on-demand firmly established as an essential cable service, technology companies at last week’s National Show in Atlanta demonstrated a host of new capabilities designed to evolve VOD into an everything-on-demand experience, to better incorporate advertisers into programming and to improve the overall user experience.

A service known as a “network DVR” is making strides toward total VOD. The service stores all recent content and makes it available for viewing on-demand. Cablers are experimenting with network DVRs and there’s reason to believe consumers want the capability.

Time Warner’s Start Over service, which allows viewers to restart a show from the beginning if they tune in during the middle, has been deployed in the operator’s Columbia, S.C., market since November, where 70 percent of the digital customers use it an average of seven times each month, said Peter Stern, executive VP of product management for Time Warner Cable. By comparison, about 50 percent of digital customers across Time Warner’s entire footprint use VOD an average of about 30 times each month, he said. What’s more, the average Start Over viewing time is 58 minutes, compared with average linear viewership of 20 minutes.

To capture this emerging consumer interest, VOD software and services firms such as Tandberg Television, Arroyo and Broadbus are offering network DVR capability in their VOD platforms. Cable operators will need to strike deals, as Time Warner has done with Start Over, with content providers for their programs to be offered in this fashion.

“The operators and programmers determine how far back in time to go and which shows will be available. It’s TiVo in the network,” said Tom Kennedy, senior director of marketing for Broadbus.

AdPoint Enhancements

Also at the National Show, Tandberg introduced additional enhancements to its AdPoint software, which enables timely insertion of fresh ads into VOD programs. AdPoint is currently being rolled out by Comcast. The software will allow operators and content providers to insert ads that are targeted all the way to the set-top box, said Braxton Jarratt, senior VP of marketing and business development for Tandberg.

“What we do is build in the capabilities from the beginning, and initially advertisers and agencies may use it for neighborhood and ZIP code targeting, and in time it can evolve into more Internet-style targeting with individual ads to individual viewers,” he said.

As services such as AdPoint are rolled out, programmers are doing the tactical work to integrate such capabilities into their budding VOD businesses, especially as they experiment with both ad-supported and fee-based VOD offerings, said Megumi Ikeda, VP of new media and strategic initiatives for NBC Universal Cable. NBC Universal doesn’t expect to use the technology until next year, Ms. Ikeda said.

Tandberg has also developed branded portals that enable viewers to jump seamlessly from A&E’s linear channel, for instance, to a virtual channel listing all of A&E’s on-demand programming. Such a portal would exist separately from current VOD menus, providing another entry point into VOD and an easier way for consumers to find VOD content, Mr. Jarratt said.

Similarly, other tech companies are looking to wrest control of the user experience away from the big program guide makers who dominate the space but are often sluggish to innovate. Interactive TV firm Navic Networks previewed a new navigation system that lies on top of existing guides and provides additional information on shows, letting consumers search by title, actor or episode, for example.