Comcast’s Fearnet Rises

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Comcast on Halloween will untomb its long-awaited “virtual” horror network, Fearnet, the first of several on-demand channels that the cable operator has in the works.

The multiplatform offering, a combination of video on demand and a Web site, represents what officials at Comcast said is their model for launching programming services into the future, forsaking traditional, 24-hour TV channels.

Fearnet, a partnership of Comcast and Sony Pictures Entertainment, is being programmed with a library of 200 horror titles from studios such as Lionsgate, Sony and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, according to Diane Robina, president of emerging networks for the cable operator.

Comcast announced its plans for the on-demand horror network in April. Jeff Shell, president of the Comcast Programming Group, has said his unit plans to launch several additional on-demand, multiplatform networks next year.

Fearnet, which will have limited ads, will be available for free on Comcast On Demand to the operator’s 11 million digital-cable subscribers, according to Robina. Comcast will also pitch the Fearnet on-demand service to other cable companies.

Along with the on-demand service, Fearnet’s Web site, (www.fearnet.com) will also debut Oct. 31. The site will offer free streaming movies as well as short-form content, such as film clips, exclusive features and even a trailer for Lionsgate’s new movie, Saw 3, which premiered Oct. 27.

Fearnet, aimed at the 18-to-34 demographic, will also have components for cellphones, initially starting out with just ring tones and wallpaper, according to Robina.

Fearnet VOD will have access to more than 200 movies a year, with about 70 hours offered at any one time, Robina said. Fearnet will offer some movies in HDTV, as well as five to six titles a month in Spanish.

“Horror is the No. 1 genre with Hispanics,” Robina said.

Some of Fearnet’s initial titles are Carrie, Night of the Living Dead, Texas Chainsaw: The Next Generation, The Last House on the Left, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and The Howling.

When asked whether indie movie studio Lionsgate will be a partner in Fearnet, and not just a content provider, Comcast senior director of corporate and consumer communications Jennifer Khoury said: “We’re talking with all of our content partners now, finalizing the details of our relationship. We’re all working together. We have a launch event coming up in L.A.”

Although Fearnet’s Web site has some short-form content related to Saw 3, Robina said she hopes to be able to take advantage of more promotional tie-ins when Saw 4 is released.

At one point, Lionsgate, with the help of former AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe, was trying to launch its own horror network.

Fearnet received mention during an analysts’ call last Thursday discussing the company’s strong third-quarter results, which included a 9% rise in revenue in its content unit to $258 million and a 22% increase in operating cash flow to $88 million in the period.

“We unveiled a new name —Versus — for the network formerly known as OLN,” said Comcast executive vice president, co-chief financial officer and treasurer John Alchin. “On Halloween, we’ll debut the new multiplatform network available on video-on-demand, online and wireless devices… There are a lot of good things coming out of our content division and we congratulate the group on all of the progress it made.”

On the call, chairman and CEO Brian Roberts, talked about Comcast’s content strategy.

“We really wanted to get the content moving in a direction that would allow the personalization of television,” he said. “And I think you’re seeing that with 1.5 billion on demand sessions in the last 12 months and growing, and the kind of content we announced today — a new network, Fearnet, which is an innovative attempt to have a broadband and a VOD network that may not have an actual channel but rather a virtual channel, but give consumers exactly what they want who love the fear category.

“We are continuing to try to innovate. I think the content division is doing that for us quite well.”

Mike Farrell contributed to this report.

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