Offers Cable TV Viewers Long Form Infomercials

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NEW YORK ( -- Cox Communications today launches the first trial of an ad-supported video-on-demand service by a cable TV provider.

Cox, the country's fifth-largest cable operator, is introducing the FreeZone VOD service to digital cable subscribers in its San Diego market and will run the advertising trial through Dec. 20. The service is offered free to digital cable customers who number in the "hundreds of thousands," according to a Cox spokesman.

Coke, Kraft, Sony
Participating advertisers, which include Coca-Cola's Diet Coke, Kraft Foods, Sony Music Entertainment's Epic Records, the San Diego Zoo and Volvo North America, will get to experiment with on-demand advertising, in which viewers choose whether they want to engage with products, services, brand messages and promotions.

The goal is to determine how consumers interact with long-form content, or content that's longer than a traditional 30-second TV spot. FreeZone advertisers are deploying ad programs ranging from five minutes to 30 minutes, said Debby Mullin, vice president of marketing and new media advertising at Cox.

"The common denominator is it's free and it's somehow advertiser-supported or advertiser content," Ms. Mullin said.

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Coke's Diet Coke will use FreeZone to launch a series of five-minute vignettes about a 20-year-old woman's experience as a production assistant on an independent film.

Sony's Epic label will highlight new artists such as Good Charlotte and Howie Day, showcase new projects by established artists such as Tori Amos, as well as video biographies, music videos and other content.

Hyping music content
"We have a lot of footage and interesting content that would be of interest to a music consumer that's rarely seen," said Lori Lambert, vice president of strategic marketing and development for Sony's Epic Records Group.

"FreeZone gives Epic a wonderful opportunity to create a unique promotional outlet," said Mitch Oscar, senior vice president and director of media futures at Universal McCann, New York. Coke and Sony Music are clients of the Interpublic Group of Cos.' media unit.

Volvo showcases its upcoming XC90 sport utility vehicle, 30 minutes of footage on the Volvo Ocean Race and a 10-minute video on the science of sailing. "Video-on-demand is going to be a very important technology in the advertising world," said Kirt Gunn, president of Cylo, New York. Cylo partnered with Volvo and its agency of record, Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, New York, on the Cox effort. For auto marketers, long-form video content could enable virtual test drives, generate leads and drive traffic to dealers, Mr. Gunn said.

'TV is changing'
"Certain advertisers are hip to the fact that the medium of television is changing," said Tim Hanlon, vice president and director of emerging contacts at Bcom3 Group's Starcom MediaVest Group, Chicago. "Those that get it and understand that time-shifted viewing and on-demand viewing, and perhaps interactive types of experiences while viewing, understand what the VOD advertising opportunity is with Cox." Kraft, a MediaVest client, will feature more than one of its brands on FreeZone.

Viewers who choose to opt-in for more information on a FreeZone advertiser will see a privacy policy posted. If they decide to opt-in, viewers will be presented with a screen that asks whether they want to access a particular offer. Another screen informs consumers that the billing address Cox has for them will be sent to the advertiser to fulfill the request. Even then, viewers get another chance to say "no thank you."

"I think [FreeZone] does bring interactive lead generation to VOD, the fact that people can opt in to give information," Ms. Mullin said. "Frankly, I think that it opens the door to creative approaches to advertising that just haven't been seen before."

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