Comcast Trial Breaks DVD Window

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As 2006 drew to a close, the nation's two largest cable operators took steps toward putting their video-on-demand movie services on more equal footing with video stores.

Comcast is trialing a day-and-date VOD test in a pair of markets, while Time Warner Cable has stocked “a virtual video store” in its Greensboro, N.C. system with some 400 library titles.

Comcast's day-and-date video-on-demand market test in Denver and Pittsburgh includes six studios selling such titles as You, Me and Dupree, The Ant Bully and An Inconvenient Truth on demand at the same time they're released as DVDs.

Comcast wouldn't officially comment on the trial, but confirmed participation from Warner Bros., Paramount Pictures, Walt Disney Pictures, NBC Universal, Lionsgate and 20th Century Fox.

Other titles in the two-market trial include Superman Returns, Scoop and See No Evil, available to Comcast Digital Cable customers on-demand 30 to 45 days sooner than they would have been had typical “windows” applied. The titles are priced at $3.99 on-demand — the same as other top VOD titles.

Comcast expects more movie titles — including entries from each of the participating studios — to become part of the trial over time, which for now is expected to run for six months. At that stage, the parties will evaluate the results.

Actually, it could take longer to assess the impact on DVD sales or video-store rentals because the studios will want to see how much better sales were in Denver and Pittsburgh than in markets where the titles hit VOD with the usual 30- to 45-day lag.

A Warner Bros. executive was quoted in an article in The New York Times as predicting little impact on DVD sales — a far bigger business than VOD — from earlier on-demand releases.

For its part, Time Warner added 400 library titles on Dec. 15 to the 200 or so recent movies it had been offering digital subscribers in Greensboro, N.C. Working with In Demand Networks, which has struck extension deals with Universal, Paramount, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Lionsgate and Fox, the system is scheduled to add titles until it has approximately 1,800-1,900 available by mid-year, a total that would put it on more equal footing with the breadth of movies proferred by Blockbuster Entertainment and other video stores (“Time Warner Opens Virtual Video Store”, Dec. 18, page 8).

More Time Warner Cable systems and those owned by other operators are expected to open their own virtual video stores, beginning in the first half of 2007.

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