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Viewers Decide Content on RCN's New Cable Channel

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Regional cable operator RCN Corp. last week launched an alternative TV channel in New York City that seeks to interact with its audience in a new way. Viewers are invited to go online and critique the station's shows, and RCN is promising to drop programs they dislike and replace them with new ones.

The channel, iT Tv, features a mixture of syndicated and original programs, including a series showcasing short films, a fitness show, cartoons, a series on musicians and shows about New York's cultural offerings. Outdoor ads and on-station promos direct viewers to www.ittvonline.com, where they can rank and review the shows.

The outdoor ads and Web design were handled by Chowder, a year-old boutique in New York that is RCN's lead agency. The creative backing the pilot project is part of a larger push by RCN and Chowder that began last month with an umbrella brand campaign tagged, "The live wire." If successful, the channel will roll out next year in other RCN markets, which include Los Angeles, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago.

"We've got to do things differently. We're a little guy," said RCN New York City general manager P.K. Ramani, noting that the company has a fraction of the number of subscribers that the top players have. "It's brand awareness at a very reasonable price."

Based in Princeton, N.J., RCN has roughly 800,000 subscribers. Besides cable, the company provides residential phone service, high-speed Internet access and business communications tools. Comcast, the No. 1 regional cable company, claims more than 21 million subscribers, while Time Warner Cable, which is No. 2, has about 11 million, according to those companies' Web sites.

Chowder is positioning iT Tv as a "people's channel." That is reinforced by posters that feature archetypical New York characters such as a cabbie and a construction worker who also are identified as cable programmers. The copy reads, in part, "It's your choice. It's your chance. It's your channel. Only on RCN."

An earlier teaser effort consisted of decals placed on sidewalks outside apartment buildings served by RCN. The decals carried the same message and were photographed to look like sidewalk stenciling.

The strategy was to create a "community neighborhood feel," said agency principal Kim Ketchell. The posters feature "real New Yorkers," added agency principal Jim Ritterhoff.

Chowder, whose leaders include former executives of The Lord Group in New York, hopes to contribute ideas as the channel expands beyond an initial offering of five hours of original programming. "There are a lot of conversations going on," Ramani said. "We're going to let [Chowder] get involved" in creating shows.

RCN hired Chowder in June after a creative review that included incumbent Laughlin/Constable in Milwaukee and another New York shop, which Ramani declined to identify. Billings are estimated at $5-10 million.

Chowder was chosen based on its creative ideas and category experience, Ramani said. The agency has one close tie to the client: From 1998-2000, Ketchell was svp of marketing at RCN. Before that, she worked on RCN at the former Angotti, Thomas, Hedge in New York, where she was director of account planning.

Ritterhoff and Chowder's third principal, Tony Kobylinski, helped create Bell Atlantic's "Wild Things" campaign as creative directors at The Lord Group in the late 1990s.

RCN's media and direct marketing remain at Affinitas, Omaha, Neb.