Banse: New Nets Could Be VOD-Based

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Comcast Corp. is hoping to cultivate three linear or video-on-demand channels as part of its proposed joint venture with Sony Pictures Entertainment, executive vice president of programming investments Amy Banse said last week.

Banse, interviewed during last week’s National Association for Multi-Ethnicity in Communications conference here, confirmed the company is looking at “the prospect of launching three channels” as part of Sony Corp.’s proposed $4.9 billion Sony purchase of movie studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., although she said it was “premature” to determine what genres or the programming shape the services will eventually take. Comcast could invest about $300 million for a 20% stake in Sony-MGM after the deal closes.

If the deal closes, Comcast could have access to more than 45,000 episodes of Sony and MGM-owned television programs and more than 7,000 combined MGM and Sony movie titles.

Regardless of whether or not the Sony-MGM merger is consummated, Comcast is expected to form the VOD joint venture with Sony Pictures Entertainment. “We’re extremely excited about [the programming] opportunities,” Banse said.

Many industry observers believe that the potential linear channels could include a soap opera channel to rival The Walt Disney Co.’s SoapNet, as well as a movie channel and an action-based programming service.

But the three channels may not be linear channels at all: Banse said the services could be launched potentially as VOD services.

Comcast is very bullish on offering basic programming on-demand, for free, to digital-cable customers, and the additional movies and television programs could help boost the MSO’s on-demand packages, driving digital penetration and reducing customer churn. Out of its 21.5-million customer base, Comcast counts about 8 million digital-cable customers.

Of late, Comcast has reiterated that it is not necessarily looking to launch new linear channels, due in part to limited channel bandwidth.

“I think there are many possibilities from VOD, linear or any combination thereof,” Banse said. “It’s tough even for Comcast to launch a linear channel — we don’t think it’s impossible, but we have to find the right content.”