The Biz: Gen Y quizzed about on-demand

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Blame the relentless and dizzying pace of the Internet, 24-hour cable news cycles, cellphones and TiVo for creating the on-demand, gotta-get-it-now universe in which we live. Perhaps nowhere is the trend more pronounced than among the Gen Y set. Now a consortium of cable operators and program providers is taking action by fielding a study to determine how 18-to-29-year-olds feel about technology that puts them in control of what they see and when they see it.

The alliance between Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision, CableLink, ESPN, Discovery, TechTV, TVN and Inflexion Point Media this week launched the first of two waves of research into the behavior of the demographic with regard to on-demand TV. The alliance is led by Mitch Oscar, principal of independent consultancy HocusFocus, and the online study is fielded by Liquid Generation, a Chicago-based firm that focuses on youth marketing.

"This is the next generation of consumers of media and we need to figure out what their habits are," says Bill Allman, senior VP-general manager, Discovery Interactive Media. Allman, who manages Discovery's interactive content across multiple platforms, says the research will not only yield insights into on-demand TV, but other emerging platforms including broadband, interactive TV and subscription video-on-demand. The alliance should have results by mid-March.

Survey participants will be asked questions about their on-demand viewing habits and how they prefer to be marketed to in a second wave. For example, one question asks: If you had to view advertising in conjunction with on-demand video, would you like to choose from a menu of ad options targeted to your interests?

Advertising to this group is a thorny problem. A survey conducted by gaming site NeoPets for Advertising Age found that 86% of respondents, all 23 years old or younger, have a VCR or personal video recorder like TiVo, and 54% say they use it to zap past commercials.

"We want to know how Gen Y thinks about pay TV, how they interact with ad-supported [video-on-demand] and what kind of advertising they will accept," says Oscar, a former Universal McCann Futures executive. The resulting intelligence could help cable operators improve their marketing to Gen Y.


"[The findings] could influence how we're approaching advertising in some of these new media," says Debby Mullin, VP-marketing and new media, Cox. Mullin, who is awaiting findings on Cox's FreeZone, its ad-supported video-on-demand trial in San Diego, says the Gen Y research constitutes the first time Cox has approached the target in its own language.

In the first phase of the survey, one question asks: "How do you typically hear about new offerings (cool channels, action flicks, Mike Tyson beat-downs, etc.) from your cable or satellite operator?" Participants are asked to select all responses that apply. Among the possible responses-bill stuffers, program guides, radio and TV ads-"my pay TV operator must be dead because I never hear about new offerings."

Survey participants want to know what kind of content and advertising works in an on-demand environment. "Sort of like video tapas," says Discovery's Allman. `"How are we going to create new business models to accommodate this?"' he queried. "We don't really know what people want on demand."

While the research does not specifically address personal video recorders and TiVo, it will touch on PVR functionality. "It's about being in control and that's what PVRs do," says Artie Bulgrin, senior VP-research and sales development, ESPN. "We'll learn to some extent about PVR features, [such as], `how appealing is it that you have pause, rewind, fast forward capabilities when you're watching a movie?"' Bulgrin says.