Cox rolls out ad-backed video service

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Cox Communications today launches the first trial of an ad-supported video-on-demand service by a cable TV provider with marketers that include Coca-Cola Co.'s Diet Coke, Kraft Foods, Sony Music Entertainment's Epic Records, the San Diego Zoo and Volvo North America.

Cox is introducing the FreeZone VOD service to digital cable subscribers in San Diego and will run the ad trial through Dec. 20. The service is offered gratis to digital-cable customers who number in the "hundreds of thousands," according to a Cox spokesman.

Participating advertisers will experiment with on-demand advertising where viewers choose whether they want to engage with products, services, brand messages and promotions. The goal is to determine how consumers interact with content that's longer than a traditional 30-second TV spot. FreeZone advertisers are deploying ad programs ranging from five minutes to 30 minutes, according to Debby Mullin, VP-marketing and new media advertising, Cox. "The common denominator is it's free and it's somehow advertiser-supported or advertiser content," Ms. Mullin said.

Coke's Diet Coke will use FreeZone to launch "What's your 20?" 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 will highlight new artists like Good Charlotte and Howie Day, showcase new projects by established artists such as Tori Amos, and offer video-biographies, music videos and other 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, VP-strategic marketing and development for Sony's Epic Records Group. Coke and Sony Music are clients of the Interpublic Group of Cos.' media unit Universal McCann, New York.

Volvo showcases its XC90 sport utility vehicle, 30 minutes of footage on the Volvo Ocean Race and video on the science of sailing. Cylo, New York, partnered with Volvo's agency, Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS Partners, New York, on the effort.

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

Viewers requesting more information on an advertiser will see a privacy policy. They will be asked 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."

"[VOD] opens the door to creative approaches to advertising that just haven't been seen before," Ms. Mullin said.

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