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Time Warner Cable's Southeastern Wisconsin division is bringing more than just basic and premium channels to customers in an on-demand format.

The MSO has launched Wisconsin On Demand, a dedicated VOD channel that offers local entertainment, sports and government programming that 200,000 digital subscribers can peruse for free at their leisure.

Initially thought of as an adjunct to a robust lineup of free VOD channels, the local on-demand channel has, in a month's time, become "our most popular free VOD service," said Time Warner Cable vice president of public affairs Bev Greenberg.

Time Warner joins the likes of Charter Communications Inc., Insight Communications Co. and Altrio Communications Inc. in airing locally generated VOD content — and, in fact, has advanced things a step by devoting bandwidth to a full-time local offering.

The other MSOs have found spot offers of high school football games or candidates' forums to be popular, TVN Entertainment Inc. senior vice president of sales and business development Jim Riley said.

"It's a good use of the platform," said Riley, whose company helps small and midsized operators facilitate local and national VOD content. "This supports cable's message that they provide the best value proposition and provides something that [direct-broadcast satellite] cannot do. When you can see your kid's baseball game or participate in a forum for candidates, it has a lot of local appeal."

Local Hits

Insight — which has long offered a local-programming digital service called LocalSource — agrees the category has potential.

"We're looking at expanding our local VOD content, which we have done with real success in Evansville, Ind., and Louisville, Ky.," said Insight vice president of programming Terry Denson.

For operators, local VOD programming might also prove to be a catalyst to get consumers to try VOD and become more comfortable with its VCR-like attributes, Riley said.

That's been the case for Time Warner's Wisconsin system.

Greenberg said the local VOD channel attracts more users than any of the free VOD services offered from popular basic cable channels, including Cartoon Network, Comedy Central, Home & Garden Television, Court TV, Food Network, Techtv, Do It Yourself, BBC America, A&E Network, Cable News Network and The Golf Channel.

"We had 17,661 hits during the first 10 days out, and we haven't marketed and promoted this to the full extent that we can," Greenberg said.

Programming falls under five separate umbrella categories: "Around Wisconsin," which showcases top local tourist sites; sports offerings from local professional and college teams; educational content; community news; and arts and entertainment, Greenberg said.

About 25% of the programming is produced locally. The rest, as with local-access channels, comes from organizations, public officials and local residents.

Typical fare might include a high-school game of the week, an elementary-school music recital or an up-close look at popular local destinations.

Greenberg said state officials, naturally, have embraced the service, and appeared in promos. "We created a 30-second spot with the [Wisconsin] secretary of tourism [Jim Holperin] saying 'Tune into Wisconsin On Demand to see the pristine beauty of our state,' " said Greenberg.

Pro Sports Fare

Professional sports teams have pitched in, developing proprietary programming. Greenberg said players from Major League Baseball's Milwaukee Brewers team created how-to programming for Little Leaguers in both English and Spanish.

The Green Bay Packers of the National Football League provided an interactive tour of the legendary "frozen tundra" of Lambeau Field, while the National Basketball Association's Milwaukee Bucks provided some classic games.

The service is positioned on channel 1111. "We figured that you go to 411 for telephone information, 911 for emergency information, so 1111 turns out to be a digital channel with all information about the state of Wisconsin," Greenberg said.

On the education side, the channel features school plays, concerts and local speakers. Greenberg said the service is producing a weekly public-affairs show — complete with an in-house news anchor — exploring the story of the week from the local newspaper.

Time Warner also plans to develop an interactive question of the week, in which customers can vote on pressing state topics.

On the arts and entertainment front, "locally produced and created theater, music and listings of entertainment around the state" are on the channel, Greenberg said.

The MSO also is in talks with Gannett Co.'s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel newspaper to potentially post restaurant reviews for subscribers.

"About Wisconsin" offers a bird's eye view of attractions and special events. "We can find out what Door County looks like or what the Circus World Parade looks like and whether we want to attend or go," she said. "The potential with this channel is enormous."

Green Bay Next

For now, the channel's only available in Southeast Wisconsin. But Greenberg said the MSO's Green Bay-area system is preparing to launch it to 45,000 digital subscribers.

Time Warner is also negotiating with Charter Communications Inc. to roll out the service in the Western part of the state. "They are very interested in launching the service in the area," she said.

Charter representatives could not be reached for comment at press time.

Also on tap for Time Warner is a second VOD channel devoted to education advancement. Wisconsin Learning On Demand will offer courses from local colleges around the state, Greenberg said.

That channel, positioned at 1112, has drawn hundreds of hits for courses being offered by Milwaukee Area Technical College, even though the classes don't start until January.

Matt Stump contributed to this report.

R. Thomas Umstead
R. Thomas Umstead

R. Thomas Umstead serves as senior content producer, programming for Multichannel News, Broadcasting + Cable and Next TV. During his more than 30-year career as a print and online journalist, Umstead has written articles on a variety of subjects ranging from TV technology, marketing and sports production to content distribution and development. He has provided expert commentary on television issues and trends for such TV, print, radio and streaming outlets as Fox News, CNBC, the Today show, USA Today, The New York Times and National Public Radio. Umstead has also filmed, produced and edited more than 100 original video interviews, profiles and news reports featuring key cable television executives as well as entertainers and celebrity personalities.