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VOD is Here, and Kids 'Get It'

Saturday, Oct. 26th 6:45 a.m.: "Hey Dad, do you know we have 1,000 channels now?" Was I dreaming about work, or was it really a wake up call from my nine-year-old daughter, Maddy?

In fact, it was slightly over a month ago that she uttered those relevant words. Keep in mind that I was really struggling to get out of bed, and I usually beg for mercy from my two kids on Saturday mornings. But on this morning, Maddy had something way too significant to share with me; sleeping in was not an option.

"Come on Dad, get out of bed." Before I could even say the words "I need coffee," she dragged me into the den, sat me down and proceeded to show me "channel 1,000" on the [Scientific-Atlantic Explorer 2000] digital cable box on my New York City Time Warner TW Cable system.

Actually, given the rather obscure channel location, I wasn't really sure how she stumbled upon channel 1,000, so I asked. "How did you find channel 1,000?" She replied, "Dad, I just went backwards exactly
one channel from New York 1." Simple enough. There it was, channel 1,000. Movies-on-demand.

Forget the coffee; I was actually feeling a strange rush of adrenaline. Yeah! Video-on-demand was now in NYC. Where was Poltergeist?

I said to her, "I have a feeling you are about to experience something that will change the way you and your brother will watch TV forever."

It was now time for me to take over the remote control because, after all, I am the "cable dad." I figured that after a few Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing VOD seminars and first hand VOD MSO negotiation experiences, I could lead my family into this Promised Land. In other words, if this "on-demand" thing got too technical, I was ready. My professional experience was converging with my home life as "dad," complete with the $125 monthly bill I receive as a Time Warner Cable customer.

Just as I reached for the remote, Maddy grabbed it back and said, "This is easy." Both of my kids already navigate through the Time Warner on-screen cable digital guide with ease. Thus, Maddy with remote in hand, was off and running, scrolling through a list of movie titles sorted by new releases, family, drama, action, extras, movies A-Z, and comedy.

Prices of either $1.95 or $3.95 flashed by with each title. However, under "extras" the price was $0.00, which caught my attention. I'm thinking, (probably like every other cable customer), if this doesn't work correctly, I'll end up in a phone conversation with my friendly customer-service rep because I'm getting billed for a movie I never actually received.

Into the Frontier

So, taking the cautious step, I said, "Maddy, stop here, let's watch one of these free "extras" and make sure this option works." She chose a Harry Potter extra, pushed the "select" button, pushed the "buy" button (even though it was a free title) and there it was. Suddenly, we were "high-fiving" each other, but for clearly different reasons.

For me, it was all about the fact that VOD, a major incremental
frontier in the cable TV landscape, had truly arrived and I was in the center of it. For Maddy, it was another chance to tell her friends that digital cable is really cool ... does anyone need a nine-year-old to sell digital?

But now it was my turn to grab the remote because I was certain Maddy had no idea that there was VCR/DVD functionality on it. So, as I pressed the "pause" button, watching a perfectly clear scene freeze on my TV, I did look like "the cool cable Dad." Fast forward, rewind, pause, stop. Everything worked like we were playing a video from our VCR.

Now the fun was really beginning because I saw at least 25 movies I would personally like to watch. The trick was to convince Maddy to go with my choice. I spotted something: The Fantastic Voyage. Had I not seen The Fantastic Voyage
on the list, I may never have seen an old favorite again. I sold Maddy on it. So we dragged my son Max into the den and the three of us started watching this film (about the team of scientists who are shrunk to microscopic size and injected into a human body to save a VIP).

Within 15 minutes, Max was already pausing, rewinding and driving me crazy because he had now seized control of the remote. Of course, as much as the kids were impressed with the VCR functionality, they were really psyched about "owning" the movie for 24 hours. "Yes Max, you can watch Big Fat Liar
as many times as you want." And you know what? He did.

Word of mouth

I also knew that getting VOD up and running in NYC was no easy feat for my colleagues at Time Warner. By the time the first rental was finished, I had already fired off the great news to the Time Warner team congratulating them on their accomplishments.

I also hoped a few analysts on Wall Street were waking up to the same experience. And as I shared my excitement with the team, Maddy was on the phone with her friends talking about "channel 1,000." I think she is convinced that since I work for Court TV, all this good "stuff" comes to our home first. Word of mouth will be a key driver for this product.

Within 36 hours, by using this simple technology, the Roses had watched five movies in addition to The Fantastic Voyage: Lord of The Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Kate and Leopold, Joe Somebody, and Time Machine. These are good titles. The next weekend, we watched an old Hitchcock movie The Birds. I love the $1.95 titles. Last weekend, I couldn't resist Michelle Pfeiffer and we watched I Am Sam.

So, from the perspective of one NYC Time Warner Cable subscriber family, where does this little focus group leave us? VOD is simple, fun
and empowering. We don't look at it as technology. So you've got us hooked.

Before we ever again decide to walk to the video store on a cold and dark winter night, we will now opt to pursue a far better alternative that efficiently meets the needs of the entire family. Watching a movie at the exact moment I want to, and watching it with total VCR functionality, is ideal. Moreover, movies-on-demand eliminate that irritating and embarrassing negotiation with the local video store owner over late fees.

The right time

From the perspective of a cable industry veteran, VOD will not only secure the digital box in the home, but it may stem subscriber erosion. It has arrived at a critical time. The industry needs to come together and deliver public relations muscle, uniform nomenclature, and present clear marketing messages that will quickly educate the consumer as well as Wall Street about the unique power of VOD.

Content producers supporting VOD initiatives should be applauded for helping "save" subscribers, thereby creating more value behind their brands. For content producers skeptical about the future business model, use the Rose family for your case study.

Sure, there are still unanswered questions about "on-demand" viewing, especially for ad supported networks like Court TV. Once I see Court TV's VOD titles deployed on Channel 1,000, I, too, will begin to better understand its impact on our network. Kids want more titles. More importantly, they represent the future of this business, and they will ultimately dictate how and what media content we will serve them.

Recently, I asked Max what he likes and doesn't like about VOD. He said he wants more "family" titles, He's right. Maddy commented recently, "If I can watch all these great movies this way, why can't I see some of my favorite Disney channel programs on Channel 1,000?"

Keep in mind that children "get it."

Finally, I sincerely hope our favorite Wall Street analysts and writers from the consumer media soon wake up and smell the coffee.