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Cox to Boost 'Primetime’ Titles

7/11/2009 2:00 AM Eastern

Cox Communications is doubling down on a video-on-demand strategy it has dubbed “TV Anytime,” to let subscribers watch their favorite shows where most people still watch television: on TV.

By Oct. 1, the cable operator is aiming to offer 100 “of America’s top-rated television programs from that week,” Cox president Pat Esser said, from more than 20 networks the day after they air. That’s up from 50 to 60 shows per week currently in the MyPrimetime queue.

The networks participating in the service have included ABC; NBC Universal’s NBC and Syfy; Turner Broadcasting System’s TBS, TNT and Cartoon Network; Fox’s FX; and Rainbow Media’s AMC.

Cox is now expanding MyPrimetime to include content from A&E Network, USA Network, Lifetime, Discovery, TLC, Animal Planet, Disney Channel and Disney XD, ABC Family, SoapNet, IFC, WE TV, Travel Channel and Bravo.

The industry in recent months has been abuzz about “TV Everywhere,” the idea that cable TV subscribers can access full-length episodes on the Web as part of their monthly bill. Comcast this month expects to begin a 5,000-household test of the concept with programming from Time Warner Inc. and others.

Esser said he was encouraged by the Comcast trial, noting that the industry needs to adopt standards for online authentication. But, he added, “what our energy has been spent on is TV Anytime.”

That’s not to say the approaches are mutually exclusive. Time Warner Inc. CEO Jeff Bewkes, even as he outlined the TV Everywhere trial last month, also emphasized cable VOD as a major thrust.

“Don’t miss the importance of video-on-demand on your set-top box,” he said. “You’ll also have a dramatic increase in the amount of VOD content available from these networks.”

MyPrimetime provides VOD access to broadcast and cable shows the day after they air for up to 28 days, with fast-forwarding disabled. Cox provides networks the option to preserve the full ad load to capture the views in Nielsen C-plus-3 ratings.

Cox said the service has proven extremely popular, with more than 80% of users saying they are satisfied with the product.

Asked what they would do if the shows were not available via MyPrimetime, 20% of subscribers would set their DVR to record the program, while on average 27% said they would not have watched the show at all. Meanwhile, 30% of MyPrimetime users said they hadn’t used VOD at all previously.

Currently, MyPrimetime offers episodes of NBC’s 30 Rock, The Office, Chuck, Parks and Recreation and Southland; FX’s Rescue Me; TNT’s Saving Grace and The Closer; TBS’s Tyler Perry’s House of Payne; USA’s Burn Notice; WE TV’s Bridezillas; Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures; and AMC’s Mad Men (starting in August).

When the fall season begins, Cox expects to offer additional shows as they debut, including ABC’s Lost, Grey’s Anatomy and Ugly Betty and NBC’s Heroes.

Cox’s MyPrimetime is available today in 11 markets: Omaha, Neb.; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Hampton Roads, Va.; Roanoke, Va.; Orange County, Calif.; New England; Kansas/Arkansas; Arizona; Macon, Ga.; Tulsa, Okla.; and Greater Louisiana. Cox plans to expand it to all digital customers by the end of the year.

In other VOD developments, last week Time Warner Cable added the Start Over feature for digital cable customers in the Fayetteville and Raleigh, N.C., areas. The service, which lets digital-cable users restart certain programs in progress after seeing an on-screen prompt, first launched in Columbia, S.C., before extending to other markets in North Carolina and in New York, Texas and Hawaii, with more coming in 2009.

Also last week, Cablevision Systems announced it was adding free VOD from eight programmers: Syfy; A&E and History; Cartoon Network, Adult Swim, Boomerang, CNN and TruTV.

Kent Gibbons contributed to this report.

September