By Elizabeth Jensen
Special to TelevisionWeek
David Purdy, VP and general manager of television services at Toronto-based Rogers Cable, was skeptical about his company’s free video-on-demand Winter Olympics coverage.
Coming from a sports television background, he said, his attitude had always been “live sports is live sports,” with little appetite among viewers for repeats. “Not for the first time in my life, I was wrong,” he said. “I was, quite frankly, surprised and delighted how well the Olympics on Demand coverage did and how much interest there was.”
Rogers didn’t even sign its agreement with the rights holder, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., for the VOD games coverage until Jan. 17, 2006. That gave it just three weeks to come up with a marketing plan before the Olympics opened Feb. 10.
The agreement with the CBC allowed Rogers, which has 2.26 million subscribers in Canada’s Ontario and Atlantic provinces, to rebroadcast 13 hours daily of CBC’s Olympics coverage in three-hour blocks, made available 24 hours after the CBC broadcast. Sports couldn’t be broken out individually, but Rogers could promote the sports that were included in the blocks and viewers could fast-forward to a specific event.
Rogers faced other restrictions. The CBC and the International Olympic Committee had to sign off on every part of the hastily crafted marketing campaign, which had to promote CBC’s Olympic Games on the VOD service and not Rogers’ corporate or brand image. Still, the agreement was a marketing coup, allowing Rogers to capture association with the Olympics even though its rival, telecommunications company and satellite service Bell Canada Enterprises, was a title sponsor of the Games. Moreover, Mr. Purdy said, the deal allowed Rogers to highlight its key distinction from Bell Canada-VOD-which the satellite service doesn’t offer.
Rogers also saw the agreement as a way to reduce churn among its nearly 1 million digital subscribers, and to highlight its VOD content. In Canada VOD is perceived largely as a movie destination.
Rogers promoted its coverage with press, targeted ads in newspaper sports sections and promotional spots on its system. In a television spot, the CBC promoted the availability of the games on VOD but didn’t tell viewers it was or how to use the service, so Rogers crafted its own ad that ran adjacent to the CBC’s. Rogers e-mailed and called subscribers, and held promotional events among its employees.
Though the Olympics coverage was offered for free, Rogers saw revenue benefits on the pay VOD side of its operations. The Torino, Italy, Games, Mr. Purdy noted, were out of sync with Canadian viewers’ schedules, which aided the VOD rebroadcasts, as did the fact that viewers could navigate to the events that interested them. Olympics content stayed available through March and generated 200,515 orders, far exceeding the 50,000 that Rogers had hoped for. Nearly half of the users had never tried pay VOD content before.
Results were positive for the Rogers brand Personal TV, Mr. Purdy said. Customer satisfaction improved by 3 percent, basic year-to-year churn decreased 12 percent and responses to whether Rogers was “a company that brings me products and services that help me live the way I want to live” were up 17 percent. The VOD deal “did achieve our main strategic goal, which was to repositias a company that offers a more personalized television service,” Mr. Purdy said.
Pay VOD revenues jumped 64 percent in March compared with a year earlier. Following the Olympics offering, Mr. Purdy said, 13 percent of light users of Rogers’ premium VOD service became medium to heavy users, and 35 percent of those who hadn’t used the pay service in six months went back to being light users. Meanwhile, 11 percent of subscribers who had never tried pay VOD became light users.
Rogers was so pleased with the Olympics results that it crafted a similar campaign for the 2006 World Cup soccer tournament, allowing viewers to watch specific matches. Mr. Purdy estimated that the soccer event would generate nearly 1 million downloads.
Mr. Purdy praised his CBC partners for allowing the VOD experiment. “I wish more and more networks would not fear these new technologies, but embrace them,” he said.