IFC Gives Indie Fans More

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The premium services get most of the SVOD headlines, but IFC On Demand has been operating on Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Interactive Optimum VOD platform for more than a year, determined to create its own space in the VOD market.

Launched in 2001, IFC On Demand converted to a $4.95 a month SVOD service in May 2002, offering 20 hours of content each month from the IFC library. At the same time, IFC has launched a virtual channel on IO, which is a cross between on-demand content and linear programming, said Cynthia Burnell, senior vice president and general manager of IFC Digital Media, the Rainbow Programming arm charged with developing new services from new platforms.

Moreover, a separate SVOD offering featuring popular theatrical movies from the IFC Films division, is scheduled for launch over the next several months, said Gregg Hill, IFC executive vice president, affiliate, sales and marketing. That film division has produced, over the past few years, such hits as Boys Don't Cry, My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Monsoon Wedding, Y Tu Mama Tambien
and Happy Accidents.

"Our role is to develop and manage new products and services that relate to new platforms," Burnell said. "We look at the consumer Web site, new products like digital, VOD and enhanced TV." Being owned by Cablevision gives IFC the benefit of having its own MSO laboratory, Burnell said.

Neither Cablevision nor IFC have released buy-rate information on IFC On Demand, which has joined HBO and Showtime as other a la carte SVOD offerings on IO. But Burnell said "every time we place an ad in a bill stuffer, our viewership goes up."

She said the service has more viewership on Saturday and Sunday, adding that "we tend to have viewership of films that might have a title that is considered risqué."

She also said that users are using the trick functions regularly: "It appears that everyone is always stopping those films."

Independent audience interest

A second SVOD service based on the original movies is slated to debut in the next few months. "It will be 100 percent exclusive content to the space," Hill said.

He believes the increased interest in independent films will help mitigate marketing problems operators might face in launching an incremental SVOD service. "You need suppliers who are getting in with operators and helping them out," he said. "We need to be smart about what the operator can handle."

Hill maintains IFC's target audience is a prime target for operators looking to sell advanced services. "The audience we are going after is growing, growing, growing. Our audience is tech savvy," he said.

And original entertainment, like that available on sister company Mag Rack, is key to growing the new VOD platform, Hill said. "We want to create original content for the VOD platform."

Still, the SVOD service is just one part of IFC's non-linear channel strategy. The virtual channel launched in May 2002 looks like a Web site home page, Burnell said, and includes six content categories. There is also server-based content, such as "Behind the Scenes" footage from various IFC films, including The Making of Y Tu Mama Tambien
from IFC Films.

The virtual channel serves as both a marketing tool for the linear network and a stand-alone entertainment center. "For the consumers, it takes you deeper into what the product is," Burnell said. "It provides a way to market the product for the cable operator." The virtual channel allows IFC to market theatrical films from its film group, IFC digital channels and IFC On Demand.

The virtual channel also has advertising applications. "We had BMW films," she said, in an advertising buy that crossed the Web site, virtual channel and VOD space. "They worked with us to put their product on our virtual channel," Burnell said.

"Those films got more hits than anything else," Burnell added. "We think about this new idea in advertising. It's a unique way to use these platforms."

IFC On Demand isn't the only IFC content in the on-demand space. In August, the theatrical film division started making movies available to the first-run VOD platform, including such titles as Business of Strangers, Y Tu Mama Tambien
and Happy Accidents. Of the 11 films going to VOD, nine were released day and date with home video, Burnell said. The exceptions were the more box-office successful Y Tu Mama and Happy Accidents. Hill said IFC wants to put eight to 12 films a year into that day-and-date pipeline.

Web plays

And IFC is branching out beyond the TV platform. The network rebuilt its Web site last year to take into account the increasing numbers of broadband homes in the U.S. "We built it for high-speed content," Burnell said. "We're creating specific content exclusively for the IFC Web site."

Starting in September, fans of Dinner for Five and Decade Under the Influence will be able to see additional content from those shows exclusively on the Web site

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