A&E Puts More Fare on Demand

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A&E Networks is expanding its presence in the on-demand arena by launching a separate Biography VOD package, probably in third quarter 2005, while it also begins to debut short-form VOD content that will serve to promote new material on the linear network.

The moves are part of the natural evolution of VOD in the product mix at A&E, The History Channel and now Biography, explained David Zagin, senior vice president of affiliate sales and marketing at A&E.

A&E started out offering A&E and History in the VOD window because “those were the two strongest brands that we have,” he said.

In the past, some Biography programming appeared under the A&E banner, but “we're feeling more comfortable Biography can reside on its own,” Zagin said. After all, the linear channel reaches some 34 million homes.

A second initiative is the creation of short-form programming, perhaps three minutes in length, that will serve as a promotional tool for the linear network, Zagin said.

“We're working with the programming groups, negotiating for VOD rights in all our deals,” he said. “We can use VOD as a cross-promotional tool, providing VOD content and extra footage to our affiliates to help them promote their VOD platform. We can also generate interest and awareness of what's airing on the linear network and bring more viewers back to our core network.”

The first installment will be Criss Angel Mindfreak, which premieres on A&E's linear channel on July 20. The network has already tested the VOD waters for the show. On June 23, A&E added 17 segments from the illusionist Criss Angel to Comcast's VOD platform. New features will be added weekly, A&E said, through Oct. 12.

Beginning July 28, episodes of the program will be available on VOD one week after their initial broadcast premiere. Promotional material also will appear on Comcast's The Fan high-speed Internet portal.

Zagin said A&E's programming model for VOD has evolved over time. MSOs take anywhere from 20 to 50 hours of content, depending on a variety of factors, including server limitations. “We do see that number increasing over the course of the next 12 months,” he added.

As a standalone service, Biography will likely carry about 10 hours each month. Getting MSOs to break out Biography as a separate category in their on-screen guides will happen over time, he said.

How A&E programs VOD is an evolutionary process. But current events definitely inform the scheduling decisions. For instance, Biography's VOD offerings will likely include profiles of major Hollywood stars if they have a big movie coming out.

“We're also featuring more and more of our programming [currently running] on air,” he said, such as carrying past episodes of Gotti. “It's different episodes but similar content.”

Zagin said A&E is getting VOD usage and viewership information from most MSOs, and its ad sales force is pitching Madison Ave. with VOD propositions. “We're looking at a short opening at the beginning of the content, perhaps 30 seconds, and something at the end of the content. A number of agencies are very bullish on this technology.”

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