Cingular Bets on VOD

Jun 19, 2006  •  Post A Comment

Cingular Wireless recently kicked off a multinetwork video-on-demand buy that sets a new creative bar for advertisers in the new platform.

The Cingular buy-one of the biggest votes of confidence a major-brand advertiser has yet cast for VOD-extends across several networks including RipeTV, Havoc, Music Choice, Concert and TV Guide. In addition, Cingular spots are currently bookending many of the movie trailers that operators such as Comcast run on VOD.

What’s particularly noteworthy about Cingular’s bet on VOD, which kicked off in April and runs through the end of the year, is that the marketer did not simply plunk its 30-second spots into VOD. Instead, Cingular crafted a series of longer-form ads that were sculpted specifically for VOD and online, including on Disney’s streamed shows on ABC.com. The buy was engineered by Cingular’s media agency Mediaedge:cia.

“We are always looking for new ways to reach the consumer,” said Liz Dinnsen, senior media manager for Cingular. Because Cingular is well-represented on linear TV, placing the VOD buy across VOD-only networks represented a potential chance to reach young audiences in a new medium, she said.

Making an early bet on VOD could also give Cingular a leg up because its wireless phone competitors aren’t advertising much on VOD.

“Cingular is a pioneer in many respects in creating a specific spot for VOD and will be emulated throughout the industry in the next 12 to 15 months,” said Ryan Magnussen, CEO of RipeTV, a VOD network that also has cellular and broadband extensions. Since its founding two years ago, Ripe has been an outspoken proponent of meshing ads into content so the ads can’t be skipped. The Cingular spots typify that approach.

For instance, early last week in the “Supermodel TV” category on Ripe, a five-minute show for supermodel Gisele Bundchen was festooned with Cingular messages from start to finish. Before the show began, a five-second so-called “pre-roll” ad ran in which a Cinderella-esque woman departing a party dropped her Cingular phone and a modern-day Prince Charming picked it up as she fled. That short video appeared in a smaller window on the TV screen alongside an image of a Cingular SLVR phone and sandwiched between a Cingular logo on top and a Cingular Web address below. A “To be continued…” message then ran across the screen. During the show, Cingular logos occasionally materialized on the screen, along with “brought to you by Cingular” messages. At one point, an image of a SLVR phone appeared, rotating across the screen while Ms. Bundchen talked about the demands of her career.

Finally, the program capped off with the end of the Cinderella story, as the wicked stepsisters tried to convince the “prince” that the phone was theirs. But its personalized features showed him that the device did indeed belong to the woman of his dreams, who was busily vacuuming inside the house.

Other VOD networks are running variations on the CInderella theme as well as another long-form spot in which two mafia heavies chase a man who drops his cellphone. Each VOD network is picking and choosing pieces to use from the Cingular creative. Music Choice, for instance, is running the second half of the Cinderella clip in front of some of its videos. Concert, another on-demand music network, has opted to run the split spots and relies on an on-air host who tells viewers the show is presented by Cingular.

Receptive Environment

The Cingular buy occurs in the midst of an advertising climate that is receptive to new opportunities in general and to VOD in particular. Media agencies are making a bigger push to educate clients to invest in VOD, said Paul Rule, president of VOD research firm Marquest Media & Entertainment Research.

The Cingular initiative represents a big step forward for VOD, both creatively and from a media planning perspective. However, VOD still faces challenges as an ad platform, according to Russ Booth, director of analytics at MediaCom, a media agency that has bought spots for clients in VOD. To continue to grow, VOD needs dynamic ad insertion, which will allow ads to be refreshed on the fly, and better measurement data, he said.

The industry and cable operators have only recently begun the early work to install and introduce ad insertion systems, though it will likely be a few years before the capability is widespread and frequently used. Meanwhile, advertisers and networks must stay on their toes to ensure consumers aren’t saturated with particular ads.

Cingular began advertising on Concert on April 1 and the network swaps out both the programming and the ads baked into it every 30 days so both remain fresh, said Jeff Shultz, CEO of the network. The average household that watches Concert tunes in three times a month, making it unlikely a viewer would see a repeat of an ad, he said.

The upside to VOD advertising is that it affords marketers the chance to tailor their spots and to only pay for what’s seen, Ripe’s Mr. Magnussen said. Ads are sold on a cost-per-view basis, he said. Ripe counts a view anytime a viewer stays tuned in for more than five seconds. The average minutes viewed on Ripe is 4.6, a hearty number considering the average Ripe show lasts about five minutes. The cliffhanger spots, such as those used by Cingular, are an effective strategy to keep a viewer tuned in the whole time, Mr. Magnussen said.

Other agencies have also opted to steer clients away from repurposing 30-second spots in VOD.

“Our approach is starting with the ideal experience for the ad: How do they want the consumer to experience the brand?” said Rob Aksman, director of creative development at interactive agency BrightLine Partners, which has engineered campaigns to integrate Reebok into VOD shows and also shepherded a VOD ad buy for Unilever’s Axe deodorant in Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim content for a mock news show about “shortage of women.”

“It’s about molding the ad vehicles to the consumers’ ideal encounter with the message versus force fitting a message to a particular media option,” he said.