Cablevision Revs Up Auto VOD Classifieds

Cablevision Systems Corp. is off to a flying start with its interactive/on-demand Optimum Auto classified advertising service, where its iO: Interactive Optimum digital subscribers can scan through 48,000 cars for sale from more than 300 dealers in the New York area.

The service allows subscribers to view new and pre-owned cars; search by make, model and other features; and contact dealers to get more information and potentially buy the automobile.

The service soft launched in late 2004, but Cablevision ratcheted up marketing in January. In fact, one in four of iO’s 1.5 million homes accessed the service in January, according to Patricia Gottesman, Cablevision executive vice president of product management and marketing. More than 2 million car listings have been viewed to date, she added, or more than one listing per iO subscriber. The service is generating 2,500 leads per month.

Optimum Auto also opens an additional sales door for Cablevision’s advertising staff. The MSO did not charge for the early listings, but it is developing a rate card based on the usage patterns seen to date.

“We’re building a business structure,” Gottesman said, and capitalizing on already established ad sales relationships. “We brought them in for period of time on a free trial basis to see usage and leads. We’re now in the second phase. Usage is extremely strong. The clients are happy with the service.” Advertisers receive both individual car listings and banner ads on the screen.

Cablevision began toying with the idea of interactive auto listings several years ago, but began developing the service in earnest in 2003 and 2004 as interactive elements were added to the Optimum platform. “The classified ad market in the New York area is significant,” Gottesman said. She estimates it at $1 billion overall, including $300 million for the automobile market.

“We knew autos lend themselves to TV with a great deal of force because of the aesthetic quality,” she said. “People like to look at cars. We also knew in an interactive environment, we would be able to contextualize a simple auto listing and bring them to life. We wanted to bring some of the magic of TV.”

Cablevision gathers the information from the dealers and hosts all the data on its headend server, said Gary Schanman, vice president of Optimum classifieds. Subscribers call up the information just like any other interactive Optimum application. “It’s relatively seamless,” said Schanman.

Information includes year, make, model, price and mileage. More in-depth information, such as transmission type, along with interior and exterior photos, are also available. “We provide a standard specification on how they provide us information,” he said. “We have a complete system to augment their listing and put up video.”

Gottesman said Cablevision is working on new assignable promotions to boost the 2,500 leads per month. Car buyers who mention the service would be eligible for a free gift, such as detailing, tinting, car satellite radio, etc. “The intent is to give customers a value add for mentioning Optimum Autos when they buy a car,” she said.

In addition to the interactive listings, Cablevision has added video to the site. That’s a combination of two- to five-minute videos from national automakers, as well as some video from local dealers. With about 100 different videos on the service, more than 100,000 auto videos were played in January from 17,000 unique customers, Gottesman said, translating to about six per home.

“We want to make sure videos live up to the promise of the service itself,” Gottesman said. “They have to be distinguishable,” she added, but they serve as a valuable sales tool to bring the classified service to further life.

The service is assigned to channel 605, allowing consumers an easier chance to find it. It is also listed in the interactive guide, and Cablevision is running cross-promotional spots on its linear channels.

An online version of Optimum Auto appears on Optimum Online, Gottesman said. “It has more of an online design.”

The service could be the first of several interactive-TV classifieds that Cablevision might launch.

“Another big business is real estate,” Gottesman said, noting that it lends itself to video and interactive searches.

Although job listings are another major classified ad marketplace, Gottesman isn’t convinced that will translate well to television. “Online is one of the best places for searching for a job,” she said.

As for the future, the company plans to add more dealers and automobiles in the months ahead. At the moment, Cablevision is only listing cars from dealerships, but Schanman said the company may add listings from individual consumers next year.

“We’re very happy where we are right now,” he said. “We’ve received great feedback from dealerships. We’re growing very fast and taking on more content.”