NBC Universal shows on Comcast OnDemand

BUSINESS DIGEST

March 31, 2006|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

PHILADELPHIA -- A dozen popular TV programs from NBC Universal's network and cable channels will be available in May on Comcast Corp.'s video-on-demand service, the companies said yesterday.

Select prime-time shows from NBC will cost 99 cents each and will be available any time after midnight the evening of their broadcast. Shows from the USA Network, Sci Fi Channel and Bravo cable channels, as well as late-night and daytime network programs, will be free.

The shows include The Office, Las Vegas, Monk, Battlestar Galactica, Celebrity Poker Showdown, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and the Law & Order spinoffs - Special Victims Unit and Criminal Intent.

NBC Universal and Philadelphia-based Comcast will split revenue from the prime-time network shows, said Page Thompson, Comcast's general manager for video services.

Comcast reached a similar deal last year to offer four CBS shows - NCIS, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Survivor and The Amazing Race - on its video-on-demand service: OnDemand. NBC Universal also agreed last year to offer replays of some programs to satellite broadcaster DirecTV Inc.

"Clearly, the amount of content that we're offering continues to grow steadily and it will continue to grow this year ... ," Thompson said. "We're constantly talking to all the networks about additional content."

This year, OnDemand will not only offer more programs now available only on traditional, or "linear" TV, but will expand its array of exclusive games and shows, Thompson said. OnDemand also will make the programs easier to find.

Video-on-demand programming is part of a strategy to keep customers who pay for monthly service from downgrading to basic cable or switching to satellite TV.

Such "churning" is down by 20 percent to 30 percent since OnDemand was introduced late in 2003, he said.

OnDemand offers more than 7,000 programs each month, including hundreds of movies and music videos. The company claims that people have used the service more than 2 billion times since 2004. The number of so-called "views" more than doubled between 2004 and 2005, said Jenni Moyer, Comcast's director of corporate communications.

OnDemand is available to customers with digital cable, which costs about $9.95 a month more than basic cable. Of Comcast's 21.4 million cable customers, 45.6 percent have digital cable, Moyer said. More than 90 percent of On Demand's programs require no extra payment.

Interest in video-on-demand drove an increase in digital cable purchases last year, she said. Comcast added 1.1 million digital cable customers. Pay-per-view revenue grew 16 percent.

The NBC Universal programs will include commercials. Customers will be able to fast-forward through them, but skipping won't be an option, Moyer said.

Also yesterday, Stephen B. Burke, Comcast's chief operating officer, predicted that the cable industry would move toward adopting a networking technology that could significantly increase the use of digital video recorders.

Burke told an investor conference in New York he thought that a trial of the new technology recently announced by rival cable operator Cablevision Systems Corp. looked promising and seemed to be on a solid legal footing.

The system that Cablevision is trying would allow cable users to retrieve recorded shows from the cable company's system, rather than from a hard drive installed on a special set-top cable box.

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