The nine markets, which represent an expansion of Cox's FreeZone program, include 1 million digital cable customers. Cox plans to deliver VOD usage data to its advertisers on a daily or weekly basis. The availability of such information is considered critical to further rollout of ad-supported VOD.
Cox is talking to national advertisers about placing buys and developing content for the platform and expects to have several on board later this quarter.
General Motors Corp. has worked with FreeZone in the past to highlight its Pontiac and Cadillac brands and is considering FreeZone again, though no deal has been done, said Ryndee Carney, manager-marketing communications at the automaker. "You know you are reaching people who have an interest in your product because they are raising their hand and choosing to view your content," she said. "It's more targeted."
The FreeZone expansion illustrates that VOD can't be ignored by advertisers much longer, said Tim Hanlon, senior VP-director emerging contacts at Starcom. "It's getting more and more difficult for marketers to avoid these platforms."
Cox was the first cable operator to earmark space in its VOD service for such advertiser-centric content when FreeZone launched in San Diego in 2002 with such heavyweights as Coca-Cola Co., Kraft Foods, Volvo Cars North America, Best Buy and BMW. BMW aired its well-received Web campaign, BMW Films, as VOD content, while Diet Coke tested a short film with several episodes.
Cox has pitched the platform to automotive, entertainment, retail and package-goods advertisers. "The fact that Cox is rolling out the same product in nine markets is very appealing," said David Cohen, senior VP-interactive media director, Universal McCann. But the challenge is securing on-air promotion on linear channels to drive viewers to the VOD platform, he said. Cox plans to provide promotional spots for FreeZone and for its on-demand service in general.
Mr. Hanlon expects national advertisers will want to place ads in on-demand content from national networks like Discovery or HGTV as well as the long-form platforms cable operators offer. But simply porting over a 30-second spot won't work in either venue; the ads need to be better integrated and less disruptive to the viewing experience, he said.
The eight new FreeZone markets are: Orange County, Calif.; Las Vegas; New Orleans; Oklahoma City, Okla.; Omaha, Neb.; Hampton Roads, Va.; Connecticut; and Rhode Island. All are expected to be on board with VOD by the end of January. Cox plans to offer FreeZone to additional markets as it rolls out VOD further, said David Porter, director-new media, Cox Media, the ad-sales arm of Cox.
VOD-measurement firm Everstream will initially provide four data points: total number of views per video; average time spent viewing the video; number of unique households watching the video; and the percentage of eligible homes viewing the content. Such data do not include any personal information on the user. Over time, additional data will be provided, Mr. Porter said.