Auto marketers take the wheel on Driver TV

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General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler are all backing one of the first original marketer-oriented programming concepts in video on demand.

The channel, Driver TV, was spearheaded by Radical Media, a New York advertising-production company. Programming consists of "virtual showrooms" of top-selling car brands. For a fee, the automakers become subscribers to the on-demand channel; no media buy is required. Radical Media-headed by Jon Kamen, chairman-CEO, Radical Media-is shooting the programming on the West Coast with the car companies' assistance.

Most people make their car-purchasing decisions based on third-party neutral information sources, Driver TV CEO Jan Renner said. "This is a really simple concept of allowing a consumer to ... compare apples-to-apples without any editorial comment. It is totally neutral."

Ford Motor Co. will showcase two brands, Fusion and Explorer, and may also provide additional content that can be repurposed for the Web. "There is a convergence between VOD and the Web and Ford is poised to capitalize on this convergence. We will be ready when consumers surf the Web from their couches," a Ford spokesperson said.

The goal is to eventually give prospective auto buyers the ability to view every new car model on the market. But to start, Driver TV will showcase 15 of the top-selling models in the country. By the end of the year, Radical Media hopes to have 100 models on board. Digital cable subscribers will be able to index cars by category, and later they'll be able to link to dealers for more information.

"VOD is a growing segment of the media space. It's also a `pull' mechanism, meaning that it is something consumers want. GM wants to participate in this space from the get-go and speak directly to our customers," said a GM spokeswoman. GM is initially providing 22 models, including its lineup of full-size sport utility vehicles: Chevy Tahoe, GMC Yukon Denali and the Cadillac Escalade.

Driver TV already has commitments from three cable operators-Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox-to put the service in 15 million households when it launches later this month. The cable-systems operators will provide data-negotiated in co-operation with the Association of American Advertising Agencies-that include: the number of VOD-encoded set-top-boxes in a given area; total views by program per month; number of unique set-top boxes viewing a program per month and total minutes viewed by program per month.

Contributing: Jean Halliday

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