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Comcast launches virtual home tours; Local addition helps cable TV distinguish itself from satellite(2)

Mon, 03/06/2006 - 6:31am
Copyright 2006 Denver Publishing Company Rocky Mountain News (Denver, CO)March 6, 2006 Monday Final EditionBy Joyzelle DavisFrom Lexis Nexis Comcast is offering a new kind of home shopping network - one that offers virtual tours of houses and condos from the privacy of a subscriber's living room. The cable network in January launched Colorado Homes on Demand, a half-hour weekly program that showcases planned communities in the Denver area from home builders including KB Homes and Ryland. The show, which is also available on demand in two- and four-minute increments, will add resale homes by the end of the month and expand its inventory of real estate across the state. Comcast's Colorado Homes is the latest addition to the cable operator's local video-on-demand offerings, which started with Dating on Demand last year and will expand to showcase autos for sale and job listings in a few months. The niche content is intended to distinguish the cable operator from its satellite-TV rivals, who can't offer such narrowly tailored programming, analysts say. "Satellite's erstwhile advantage of 'coast to coast' availability will increasingly become its Achilles' heel," said Craig Moffett, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein, in a report issued last month. "As television becomes increasingly interactive, hyper-local services will likely be a part of our lives, rather than merely another digital service." Video-on-demand programming, which is free to viewers, requires a digital set-top box so subscribers can select which shows they want to watch from a library of programs. Shows such as Colorado Homes provide an opportunity to sell advertising to real estate agents and home builders while also providing an incentive for subscribers to opt for Comcast's pricier digital cable service over basic analog cable. Philadelphia-based Comcast, the nation's largest cable operator with 21.5 million subscribers, is one of the biggest and first providers of video-on-demand after investing billions in recent years to upgrade its networks. Comcast's On Demand cable offerings - which include exercise classes, movies, karaoke and children's shows - were accessed 1.4 billion times nationwide in 2005. In Colorado, Comcast subscribers watch about 4 million programs each month. Cable operators in other markets are testing hyper-local shows, too, including Time Warner's Wisconsin on Demand - which shows high school football games and school plays in the Green Bay and Milwaukee markets - and Cablevision's interactive coverage of local elections in New York suburbs. Colorado, which has about 700,000 Comcast subscribers, is the cable company's first market to get the homes on demand program, said Kurt Kennedy, vice president and general manager of Comcast Spotlight, the company's advertising division. The real estate offering "takes this product that is not one-dimensional - which is what the home builders have been boxed-in with in print - and puts it onto a platform that lets viewers really explore" the homes, said Carolyn Petersen, director of sales for Comcast Spotlight. As the show expands to include more types of properties throughout the state, Petersen sees resort communities such as Aspen and Vail as a "great play as far as long-term dreamers who want a second home." Comcast might eventually offer tours of those homes to customers in distant markets such as Chicago, where people might be fantasizing about someday buying a mountain retreat here, she said.
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