Copyright 2002 Reed Elsevier Inc.

Daily Variety…10/28/2002

From LexisNexis

Comedy Central and BBC America have agreed to offer some of their programming for free in the VOD platform to cable subscribers hooked up to digital boxes.

The two networks engineered the precedent-setting deal with inDemand — the dominant distributor of pay-per-view programming in the U.S. — as a way to lure subscribers into sampling the benefits of VOD, enticing them to pay extra fees for the VOD bellwethers: recent-vintage hit theatrical movies, at $3.95 a pop.

"Free content will allow consumers to test-drive video on demand and get comfortable with it," said Dan York, senior VP of programming for in Demand.

York is convinced that movies on demand could put a real financial dent in the video stores. Not only would the rental fee be slightly cheaper than that of many videostores, but VOD would allow the viewer to pause, rewind or fast-forward a movie or TV show in real time, just like a pre-recorded cassette or DVD.

And there'd be no hauling of cassettes back to Blockbuster and no ponying up of extra fees for missing the rental deadline.

InDemand has VOD contracts with other providers of cable programming such as Court TV, ESPN, Fox News, Hallmark Entertainment, Sesame Workshop and Turner Entertainment. But subscribers have to pay between $1 and $2 every time they call up one of the programs offered by these providers.

What Comedy Central and BBC America get out of furnishing freebies is extra attention to their regularly scheduled programming, which could get improved ratings from the VOD cross-promotion.

Among the shows BBC will shoehorn into free VOD are the sitcoms "Absolutely Fabulous" and "Keeping Up Appearances" and the style programs "Changing Rooms" (the model for TLC's "Trading Spaces") and "Ground Force."

Comedy Central will be a little stingier with free VOD, holding back complete episodes of its successful series "South Park," "Primetime Glick" and "Crank Yankers" and instead presenting only snippets, the equivalent of trailers for theatrical movies.

Free VOD fare from Comedy Central will include such lower-rated series as "Let's Bowl," "Beat the Geeks" and "Strangers with Candy."

Right now, only about 3 million cable subscribers have access to VOD, but In Demand, citing Kagan World Media figures, projects that figure to reach 8.8 million by December 2003.