On Demand, Urban Style

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Comcast Corp.’s on-demand service is bringing a decidedly urban flavor to its digital subscribers.

Comcast’s recently launched Urban Beat VOD area is delivering entertainment programming ranging from hip-hop to gospel to the growing number of on-demand-enabled urban subscribers. Comcast’s latest addition: the Russell Simmons-helmed service Def On Demand, which launched last week, with programming featuring musical artists, professional athletes and entertainers, according to DoD CEO Will Griffin.

DoD joins an Urban Beat lineup that includes fare from linear cable networks Black Entertainment Television and TV One, as well as content from gospel music-tinged service Praise TV and urban-targeted services QD3 and Vibe.

While Comcast officials said it’s too early to reveal the number of streams the block has generated since its August debut, Comcast On Demand vice president and general manager Page Thompson noted that urban programming has proven popular among the MSO’s subscribers.

“We do have some content from various networks and the rap and R&B videos have always done well for us on Music Choice,” Thompson said. “It’s great to be working with the whole Def organization and I think the content will be extremely popular.”

Indeed, ethnic viewers, in general, gravitate to programming specific to their demographics, according to the 2005 Horowitz Associates Inc. State of Broadband Urban Markets VI report. The study found that 41% of urban Blacks, 21% of Hispanics and 20% of Asian-Americans surveyed perceived on-demand services targeted to the respective groups as valuable to their viewing experience.

“The trend is moving away from linear channels and toward on-demand,” said DoD’s Griffin. “Our audience is watching television this way, so we want to be the first mover in this space and deliver value to the consumer for free in a video on-demand environment.”

Griffin said the company chose VOD rather than offering a linear channel because its audience tends to use new technology heavily. Over the years, companies backed by Simmons have tried to launch linear hip-hop lifestyle channels.

Unlike many startup VOD services, DoD has already signed several blue-chip sponsors, including sneaker and apparel company Reebok, Coca-Cola and General Motors. In addition to sponsorship elements, Griffin said the companies will provide content for the channel. For instance, Reebok will provide 10 short documentaries featuring such personalities as rapper Jay-Z, National Basketball Association star Allen Iverson, pro boxer Winky Wright and National Football League quarterback Donovan McNabb.

Griffin said the network will focus on various themes within the hip-hop community. November will focus on the mix tape business, with exclusive biographies of rappers 50 Cent and Eminem, and how their careers developed after exposure on mix tapes.

The network will also feature mix-tape sessions with Eminem DJ Clinton Sparks; video-mix shows, and street-style dance battles.

Overall, DoD will feature 10 programs representing six to eight hours of content a month. “The idea is that we’ll have the depth of content on individual artists that will resonate with the hip-hop fan at any given time,” Griffin said.