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Season’s Givings From Operators, Networks

Reruns are part of the television landscape during the holidays, but for many military homes this season, the encores that families can access on demand are the best gift of all.

Many cable operators take advantage of video greeting cards, filmed by the Army-Air Force Hometown News Service, using the content to populate their on-demand platforms.

“In our experience, people watch it over and over again,” said Ray Child, director of public relations for Comcast systems in Utah. “Those families are so very grateful.”

The VOD greetings are just one example of the pro-social campaigns promoted during the holidays by cable operators and programming networks. Companies and their staffs, which run community programs all year long, heighten their activities at this time of year, creating gift packages for servicemen, holding lunches for local women’s shelters and participating in local Toys for Tots programs.

ANY-TIME ACCESS

Child said his division has been running the VOD greetings for three years now. The local broadcasters have picked up the videos for use as interstitials, but families would only see the missives if they happen to be watching at the right time.

Because Comcast has made this content available on demand, families can access it any time they want — as many times as they want.

To guarantee access, Child said, Comcast notifies the local next of kin of the content (Utah has 30 greetings archived this season). If a family doesn’t have digital service, the operator provides an upgrade for two months, so the family can access VOD. Nonsubscribers are offered the option of a two-month hookup.

“This is one of the funnest projects we do all year,” he said.

Holiday greetings from service personnel are available in most Comcast systems.

Greetings are going outbound, too, in the form of gift packages from some systems. For instance, 200 members of the human resources staff of Comcast’s Eastern Division met recently in Boston to assemble 100 10-pound gift boxes to be sent to Comcast employees now serving in the military, as well as to friends and family members of employees.

The contents — foodstuffs, hygiene items, DVDs and other goodies — were collected from Comcast workers, according to Shawn Feddeman, director of public affairs for the division.

UNDER THE 'ANGEL TREE’

In San Diego, the Cox Kids Foundation supports a local shelter that houses victims of domestic violence called Casa De Amparo. According to Amy Jankowsky Berry, director of government and community relations, the system places an “Angel Tree” in the lobby this time of year. The holiday gift wishes of shelter residents are placed on the tree, and Cox employees select one or more wish and buy that gift.

On Dec. 15, the system held a luncheon, where the cable employees heard of the trials the shelter residents have faced. The workers and residents shared holiday treats and entertainment, furnished by a makeshift band of Cox employees.

Adoption is the focus of the holiday program in Las Vegas, now in its third year. As part of the year-round “A Welcome Home” initiative, the Cox system there highlights children in the foster care system in hopes of finding them permanent homes.

System employees fund an annual holiday party for 100 foster children and their host families where the kids are treated to games, face painting and a visit from Santa, according to Stephanie Stallworth, director of public affairs.

Charity work has become competitive in Charter Communications’s Fond du Lac, Wis., system. There, workers pick a charity to benefit each year and the call-center workers are divided into teams to see which group can collect the most cash and goods for the charity. This year, the beneficiary will be the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the winning team gets to help distribute the donations to the clubs.

Another Charter business division, serving Northern Wisconsin, sponsors “Free Movies for Food.” Consumer and employees who donate three or more nonperishable food items in November and December get coupons for two free on-demand or pay-per-view titles.

Ad sales teams and cable networks have gotten into the spirit, too.

For its part, Comcast Spotlight conducts the “Be a Holiday Helper” campaign with its advertisers. The campaign lets ad customers cut through the holiday clutter while being associated with leading nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army, the American Red Cross and Toys for Tots.

E!’S CHARITABLE E-CARDS

A series of vignettes is created with talent from participating networks such as The Biography Channel, E!, CNN, MSNBC, The Weather Channel and BET. The spots urge viewers to go to a corresponding Web site and enter their ZIP code to get contact information of local charities. Local businesses can tag those spots.

Dana Runnells, director of communications for Comcast Spotlight, said the holiday helper campaign would air in 10 major markets this season, with sponsors including Subway, Kia, Campbell’s Soup and Jiffy Lube.

E! rolled out an on-air campaign to get viewers to help Children’s Hospital New Orleans by going to its E! Online Web site and sending holiday e-cards to friends and family. The network will donate funds to the Hurricane Katrina-damaged hospital for each card sent.

The cards are illustrated by top children’s books authors and are available on the Web site through the end of the month. The effort is in partnership with Children’s Miracle Network.