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Charter Deploys Long-Form VOD Advertising

Charter Communications Inc. has rolled out its iWant More! long-form advertising category in all 26 of its video-on-demand markets, after a successful test last summer.

“The goal was to get people more comfortable with the features, get greater usage of the on-demand category and increase ad sales by securing national and local dollars,” said Todd Stewart, corporate vice president of national advertising sales and development for Charter Media, in discussing the test that led to the eventual deployment.

During the trial, six different advertisers televised a total of 12 to 16 long-form ads, running in length from five minutes to 48 minutes, Stewart said. He believes two of those advertisers will be back in 2005, and he’s negotiating with another two to four to join the program.

“I’m very confident there are many companies that are interested in on-demand advertising,” Stewart said. “How fast does it grow and how quickly are we able to build the national infrastructure is still up in the air. A lot will be determined in the next 12 to 24 months. All the MSOs are conducting trials.”

Charter plunged ahead with a full-scale rollout in August after conducting two long-form advertising tests in the summer of 2004. The company tested in St. Louis, on a Motorola Inc.-Concurrent Computer Corp. platform, and in a suburb of Los Angeles, on a Scientific-Atlanta Inc.-nCube Corp. platform. Both server vendors pulled viewing statistics for Charter to send to its advertising clients.

Sponsors range from automobile makers and entertainment companies to consumer electronics makers and how-to advertisers.

During the first four weeks of the tests, Charter did not advertise the category. In week five, cross-channel spots promoting the iWant More! category were added, increasing usage by 50%, Stewart said.

With those results in hand, the company launched all six advertisers and more than 12 videos in August. Over time, new content from the same advertisers was added.

Stewart likes to treat iWant More! like a programming category. It’s important to refresh the content and keep people coming back to watch, he said. Many big-ticket sales, such as automobiles or consumer electronics, require a lot of consumer education. A husband may view a new car ad, then have his wife watch the same video later, he said. Consumers may compare the pricing and features of two products against one another using the long-form ads.

Stewart said Charter can’t discuss the gross number of set-top box viewers or the number of unique viewers to the platform owing to confidentially agreements it struck. But he said the entertainment and automotive features have been popular. Borrowing a line from nCube executive Jay Schiller, Stewart said it’s about “reach, relevancy and interactivity.”

He hopes to build a viewing habit with consumers, who will turn to iWant More! when they find it’s their time to buy a car or other major product. “If they are interested in a new truck, here is more information,” he said. “You’ve got an engaged consumer, and they can play it again.”

Among advertisers, Stewart said he’s seen a lot of interest from the automotive and consumer electronics industry — “anything that requires a detailed understanding of the product necessary to make a purchase.”

In addition to expanding the number of advertisers, Stewart is planning to launch local versions of iWant More!, probably in the second quarter of 2005, for local, regional and national advertisers. Charter is evaluating markets for the launch, Stewart said.