CBS hits soon airing on demand

November 08, 2005|By DAVID ZURAWIK | DAVID ZURAWIK,SUN TELEVISION CRITIC

As part of a rapidly expanding effort by TV networks to make their shows available when viewers want them, CBS and Comcast are about to offer four of the network's most successful prime-time series as video on demand.

Starting in January, Baltimore will be one of the first cities in which viewers can watch the CBS hit series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, NCIS, Survivor and The Amazing Race at their convenience - as soon as one hour after an episode airs nationally. The cost for each viewing of the hour-long shows will be 99 cents.

While the shows will be available on demand only to those who subscribe to Comcast digital cable - the top tier of cable service - that audience is growing. Revenue for its On Demand service rose almost 8 percent year to year, according to Comcast's third-quarter statement released this week. So far this year, subscribers in Maryland have watched more than 15 million programs On Demand, according to Jim Gordon, a company spokesman.

"Video on demand has fundamentally changed the way people watch TV, and now, for the first time, the most popular prime-time CBS programs will be available to our customers," said Brian Roberts, chairman of Comcast Corp.

The move by CBS brings it into competition with ABC and NBC, which recently announced similar deals using media convergence to create new revenue streams. ABC is allowing fans of Desperate Houswives and Lost to download episodes of those hit series with iTunes software (video iPod) from Apple Computer Inc., while NBC's deal with DirecTV lets viewers use the video on demand feature of the satellite TV service to watch episodes of Law & Order: SVU and Monk whenever they want.

Describing video on demand as "the next frontier in our industry," Leslie Moonves, chairman of CBS, said in a statement, "We're offering hit programming that is extremely well-suited for this new medium, and we're confident that the lure of watching these shows at one's own convenience will [be] wildly popular."

While the deal marks the first time CBS prime-time programs will be available on demand, Baltimore-area viewers have been able to use the Comcast service for around-the-clock access to newscasts from WJZ-TV (Channel 13), the CBS-owned station in Baltimore.

"On Demand has been a terrific extension of our core strategy of offering local news more hours of the day over more platforms, so that we have the opportunity to reach viewers with our product on their schedules," said Jay Newman, vice president and general manager of WJZ.

The CBS-Comcast prime-time deal will initially be limited to those cities served by CBS-owned stations. Overall, Comcast has 1.1 million subscribers in Maryland, but does not "break that number down" as to what portion use the digital service, according to Kirstie Durr, a Baltimore spokeswoman for the cable firm.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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