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Struggling Voom Seeks a New Shop

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NEW YORK Cablevision's Rainbow DBS division is looking for an agency that's "agile and able to respond quickly to dynamic market conditions" to handle the estimated $50 million creative and direct marketing account for its Voom high-definition satellite network, according to the RFP.

The winner will be the second shop for the 5-month-old Voom and, analysts argue, is likely to have an uphill battle marketing the struggling network, a venture they think the marketplace cannot support.

Voom's 31 channels of HDTV, including 21 commercial-free, exclusive channels grouped by movie genre, have attracted fewer than 2,000 subscribers since its October launch. Facing entrenched competition from other satellite TV providers as well as cable systems, most of which already offer HDTV, Voom has had trouble getting traction.

"The problem is trying to make lemonade with this particular batch of lemons," said Josh Bernoff, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "It's a hell of a challenge, and it's going to be very expensive. People are not banging on the door saying, 'I want my dedicated HDTV channel.' "

The review is being managed by New York consultancy Matchworks, which also ran Cablevision's recent search for an agency to handle its Optimum Online brand of Internet and telephony services.

A key decision maker at the client, according to sources, is Jeff Yapp, who arrived at Rainbow DBS as chief marketing officer earlier this year. Yapp previously oversaw marketing efforts at now-defunct retailer The Wiz, handled by The Wolf Group. Before that, as president of Hollywood Video's Hollywood Entertainment Corp., Yapp worked with MDC Partners' Cliff Freeman and Partners in New York.

The RFP, due by April 5, indicates that the client wants an East Coast-based agency, preferably in New York, whose leaders will be accessible day-to-day. The questions posed in the RFP suggest Voom is looking for a shop that has experience in building a young brand as well as in "marketing monthly subscription-based services to consumers (credit card, telecom) and/or retail marketing (particularly in consumer electronics)."

Creative incumbent Lowe said on Friday, after the RFP was issued, that it had resigned the business. Lowe was lead shop in IPG's winning pitch for the business last May after a shootout with WPP and Omnicom teams. (The WPP team included J. Walter Thompson in New York, and Omnicom's included TBWA\Chiat\Day in New York.)

Other IPG agencies working on the business include The Sloan Group, which handles direct marketing, R/GA (interactive), Initiative (media), FutureBrand (brand consulting), Weber Shandwick (PR) and Jack Morton (events). The shops have created sales material and displays for Sears, the first retailer to offer Voom. The multi-agency endeavor has been coordinated by The Plus Consulting Group, a Lowe affiliate run by Steve Harty.

Lowe has not produced any work. Voom's TV advertising has been limited to two direct-response spots created by Sloan Group. One ran in December, promoting a boxing match and featuring Don King. The other, which touted the scope of Voom's offerings, aired during the Academy Awards in February. (Weber Shandwick teamed with sister PR shop Rogers & Cowan on a supporting promotion in which Oscar presenters each received $6,000 worth of high-definition swag, including a one-year subscription to Voom.)

Major media spending has been limited. According to Nielsen Monitor-Plus, Voom spent $2 million last year and $1 million in January, the latest month numbers were available.

In a statement, Lowe worldwide CEO Jerry Judge explained why the agency quit the account: "The need for a brand advertising effort has not materialized, and there are no plans for any in this next fiscal year. While the Voom business has moved to an acquisition subscriber model, Lowe has not produced any advertising to date. In view of this, we could not find a way to make the account financially feasible."

A rep for the other agencies on the brand, including Sloan Group, said, "As Voom's needs have evolved, each unit has been reassessing their relationship with the client to make sure it's mutually beneficial. They continue to work on the business."

The client declined to comment on the review. Rainbow DBS rep Bo Park said, "We are continuing to work with IPG, and we have nothing to announce at this time."

The news of the review came as no shock to at least one analyst. "I don't think any independent observer of Voom expected them to have many subscribers by this time," said John Mansell, senior analyst for Kagan Research in Fairfax, Va. "I'm not surprised they're re-evaluating their game plan."

—with Kathleen Sampey

This story updates an item posted on Mar. 26 with details from the RFP.