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Cable Operators

Comcast Sets the VOD-Content Standard

12/12/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Some operators are touting video on demand as the future of the cable business, but Comcast Corp. has turned it into a present-day reality.

Over the past 12 months, the Philadelphia-based operator has rolled out a free VOD lineup that not only provides its subscribers with access to a wide variety of quality — and, in some instances, exclusive — fare, but has proven to the industry that if you build a robust roster, viewers will come.

For taking this aggressive tack toward using VOD to buttress its digital-cable platform, Comcast is this year’s Multichannel News 2004 Innovator Award winner for advanced services.

Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts says he expects the company’s subscribers to download 1 billion on-demand shows in 2005.

The MSO boasts that nearly 3,000 shows will be available to Comcast’s roughly 13 million VOD-capable subscribers by year-end, en route to 4,000 in 2005. Among the building blocks: fare from Anime Network, Atom Television, BBC America, Bloomberg Television, Black Entertainment Television, TBS, MTV: Music Television, Fox Cable Networks Group and Music Choice.

Comcast’s on-demand sports package proffers content related to college football, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. The NFL On Demand service has garnered significant interest, according to Comcast.

Some 600,000 of the operator’s households downloaded highlights from NFL games the first week that content was available.

Comcast has also stirred the kidvid pot with shows from Nickelodeon, PBS, Sesame Workshop and HIT Entertainment. It’s also teaming with the latter trio to develop original programming for VOD, as well as a linear preschool network set to launch next year.

Comcast also worked with Noggin to premiere Franklin’s Magic Christmas one month before the film debuted on the network.

In the news world, local and national content deals with NBC and CBS are affording viewers hundreds of hours of informational programming, said Roberts.

As for films, Comcast will expand its base when the MSO begins offering library fare from Sony Corp. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. It gained access to those titles through involvement in the Sony-led consortium that agreed to buy MGM earlier this year for about $4.5 billion.

Comcast has wielded its considerable clout to make more than two-thirds of its VOD offerings free to subscribers, despite programmers’ desire for compensation. Moreover, the No. 1 U.S. MSO has begun to make some pay programming available via free VOD.

As a promotional play, it recently reached an accord with Showtime Networks Inc. to provide access to episodes of the original series Dead Like Me, previously available only to Showtime On Demand subscribers. (The offering will consist of library episodes different from the current installments offered via subscription VOD.)

“The viewer is going to be in control of being able to record and rebroadcast, and pick what they want,” Roberts said. “So we’ve said to the content companies, 'You should accelerate that and look at it as a marketing opportunity to display your products more easily.’ ”

September