Digital Dealmakers: Rachelle Zoffer

Sep 25, 2006  •  Post A Comment

The player: Rachelle Zoffer, director of interactive television at Verizon.

The play: Ms. Zoffer, who reports to Terry Denson, VP of content strategy and acquisition for Verizon’s video service, joined the phone company in July in the newly created position. Now that the new video entrant has introduced its 200-plus-channel digital service in markets in seven states over the past year, Verizon will start adding the bells and whistles, such as interactive television. Ms. Zoffer’s task is to strike deals with television networks and content providers for their one-screen interactive features that let users interact via a remote control while watching television.

The pitch: Because Verizon’s network is all-digital, it can roll out services nationally rather than market by market, as cable operators do. “The [Motorola boxes Verizon uses] have a lot of capability and we don’t have to worry about supporting older technology,” she said. Ms. Zoffer’s hiring signals that Verizon plans to make a big push into interactive services as a differentiated competitor to cable and satellite, which have been slow to roll out interactivity on a wide scale. “Our whole big pitch is more channels, more choices, more value. So this adds to the `more value,”‘ Ms. Zoffer said.

The early work: Verizon has introduced one interactive application thus far-a “one touch” service that lets viewers access real-time traffic and weather information via a remote control. Verizon plans to add financial, sports and general news information to that service. In addition, Verizon intends to incorporate interactive features from cable and broadcast networks that layer on top of their programming, such as the ability to play along with a game show, vote on a reality program or make purchases on a shopping network. “Anything from the channel that makes the viewer more involved and loyal to the programmer,” Ms. Zoffer said. “My job is to talk to all the programmers and see what makes sense.”

The money guys: Verizon said it invested more than $1 billion in its fiber buildout in 2004, and Wall Street analysts have estimated Verizon will have spent $18 billion by the time the video service has been fully rolled out. Most interactive services will be free to consumers, but Verizon will get a cut of revenue from commerce applications and interactive ads tied into interactive programs. In some cases, Verizon may have to pay a license fee for interactive services from programmers.

Pros: Interactive programming has been shown to keep viewers more engaged with the content and the ads that run along with it. “It’s been proven that people want to interact and they want to talk back to their TV,” Ms. Zoffer said. “It’s great for advertisers because people are already interacting with the show and won’t skip over.”

Cons: The challenges Verizon faces will be to create a new ITV business and forge deals with programmers.

TV in five years: “People will still be watching TV,” she said. “It will be different shows at different times, where everything you watch has some sort of interactive component. People are buying hi-def TVs and want to stay on the TV and watch there.”

Backstory: Ms. Zoffer was born and raised in Pittsburgh. She earned a degree in computer science from the University of Michigan and an MBA from the University of North Carolina. She has worked for Oracle, Disney, Sofitel-USA and Shadow TV. She’s 39 and lives in New York.

Who knew? She traveled around the world in 1993 and 1994 and worked as a bartender in Hong Kong for three months.