Our partnership with Verizon to build and run a VJ-driven hyperlocal tv station is now one year old, and The Wall Street Journal has written a very nice piece about us:
Kids, Thugs, Dogs, Cats
Drafted Into TV Battle
By DIONNE SEARCEY
March 20, 2008; Page B1
In the fight between phone and cable companies for TV subscribers, things are getting a bit more personal.
|A scene from Comcast’s pet-adoption show
In the suburbs of northern Virginia, the everyday activities of a blind mechanic are central to an episode of “Push-Pause,” a show on Verizon Communications Inc.’s FiOS1 channel. In Washington, D.C., Duke, a 6-year-old Doberman mix, stars in an episode of a pet-adoption program aired by Comcast Corp. In a Los Angeles suburb, children and their families along the sidelines of a local league’s soccer match are featured in an episode of a new on-demand show on Time Warner Cable Inc.
The new shows mark a subtle, important shift in strategy by major telecommunications companies, who have fought for years over everything from price to high-definition-channel offerings to picture quality.
Verizon, which is planning to spend roughly $18 billion to roll out its fiber-optic network to deliver TV and fast Internet service to customers, is betting that its strategy of developing its own original, hyper-local, human-interest TV programming will help set it apart. The company, which offers FiOS TV in 13 states, started a 24-hour TV channel in the Washington, D.C., area called FiOS1 about a year ago.
“If you smell fire and don’t know where the fire engine is going, you can look at News 12 or NY1,” says Terry Denson, who oversees the local content effort for Verizon, referring to two of the pioneering local news channels started by cable companies. “What we accomplish is more positive, uplifting and community central.”
“Push-Pause” is produced by Michael Rosenblum, who about 15 years ago was part of a team that started Time Warner’s New York City news channel NY1. Mr. Rosenblum sends five videographers out each day with hand-held cameras and laptops to record and write episodes.
The shows have featured a blind mechanic, Gene Thompson, of Oak Hill, Va., whose adventures included skydiving and inventing ways to trim trees using a harness and his hands to feel his way around branches. The camera tracked him mowing his lawn using a rope that he tied to himself and a fixed object. Another episode focused on a local painter in the D.C. area and his creations.
“We’re not dealing with anything controversial,” said Mr. Rosenblum, president of Rosenblum Associates Inc., which is under contract with Verizon. He adds, “As one would expect, they are entering into this with a great deal of caution and care. But at least it’s a toe in the water.”
Verizon said it has received hundreds of emails from viewers who follow “Push-Pause” and other FiOS1 programs. “The community actually knows who we are,” said Mr. Rosenblum. “People call us up.”
The idea is to feature “super-local” stories on people who probably wouldn’t be seen on more-typical shows. After all, local content has long been used by cable companies to defend their turf from satellite-TV operators, whose ability to offer local programming is limited by their national reach and capacity on their satellites.
For years, Cablevision Systems Corp. and the other big cable companies have operated channels that serve up local news, weather, sports and traffic reports. Cablevision’s internal surveys show that many customers cite the company’s News 12 channels on Long Island, N.Y., where Verizon is aggressively marketing its FiOS TV service, as the reason they refuse to switch to FiOS. Cablevision touts it in TV ads with the tagline, “News 12 traffic and weather, not on phone company TV.”
Now, cable operators are also beefing up their focus on hyper-local features. This past spring Cablevision began airing the features as part of its “Local on Demand,” which offers an array of community parades, street fairs and high-school sports. One show, “Meet the Leaders,” features 30-minute interviews with local elected officials. “Neighborhood Journal” is similar to Verizon’s Push-Pause, with slice-of-life community features.
Comcast, the nation’s biggest cable operator by subscribers, has formed a “Get Local” team of six employees solely responsible for producing localized content. They have delivered a raft of new on-demand offerings in certain markets, including the pet-adoption show “Pets ON DEMAND” in the Washington and Baltimore markets, and a sort of localized version of “America’s Most Wanted” called “Police Blotter” in Delaware.
“Satellite can’t do this,” said Michael Doyle, who is president of Comcast Cable’s Eastern Division and the founder of CN8, Comcast’s regional cable network. “Verizon is just getting started. They’ll be working for a long time to even just catch up with us.”
Verizon declined to respond, specifically, but said it expects to have more high-definition channels than Comcast by the end of the year.
Write to Dionne Searcey at firstname.lastname@example.org