Comcast-Disney Could Boost VOD

2/15/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Movie video-on-demand executives are optimistic that a proposed Comcast Corp acquisition of The Walt Disney Co. could have very positive ramifications for the burgeoning VOD business.

Disney's Buena Vista Television division, which oversees the company's movie pay-per-view and VOD distribution, is the only major studio to not reach a long-term distribution deal with VOD purveyors such as In Demand LLC and TVN Entertainment Corp. — opting instead to launch a direct-to-consumer on-demand service MovieBeam.

But during a press conference last week to announced its intent to purchase Disney, Comcast cable division president Steve Burke specifically pointed to the Disney movie library as a major asset to the MSO's long-range VOD plans.

He also hinted that Comcast would look to shorten the home-video windows for Disney products. The typical VOD window averages around 45 to 60 days.

"We think the Disney movies and attractive windows on video-on-demand makes a tremendous amount of success," Burke said.

That's music to operators' ears. For years they've complained that the longer movies stay on home-video shelves, the less attractive they become once they hit PPV.

In fact, a recent In Demand study said buy-rates can climb as much as 50% when the movies reach VOD platforms less than 30 days after titles hit home-video shelves.

With only 10 million homes currently offering VOD programming, The Carmel Group president and senior analyst Sean Badding believes that VOD hasn't been on the front burner for the studio. Also, VOD revenues have not exactly made studios jump to the technology.

Last year, VOD movie sales were projected to gross $293 million, according to the Video Software Dealers Association.

In contrast, the VSDA reported that DVD and home video rentals combined to gross $8.2 billion, according to Home Video Essentials, a product of Rentrak Corp. which tracks home-video performance.

"Disney would rather have these other companies trail-blaze the VOD path so they can follow in their footsteps and eventually overstep them in the future, while placing greater resources and emphasis on their core assets," Badding said.

Sources close to both In Demand and TVN said progress had been made in negotiations with Disney and were confident a multiyear VOD deal was in the offing. A Comcast takeover would certainly boost those chances, said the sources.

In Demand and TVN representatives could not be reached for comment by press time.

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