Jacobson’s Eye on In Demand’s HD, VOD Visions

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In Demand LLC will continue to aggressively pursue proprietary video-on-demand and high-definition content for affiliated MSOs and systems under Rob Jacobson, who was recently named president and CEO.

Jacobson, who took the reins of the VOD/HD content aggregator late last month after former In Demand president and CEO Steve Brenner resigned, will continue the company’s successful transition from its role as a pay-per-view event and movie purveyor in the late 1990s to a leading distributor of VOD content, as well as a provider of HD fare through its two linear INHD services.

“We’ll have 15 million VOD customers by the end of the year, and we have the most widely distributed HD channels anywhere in the country [with 1 million subscribers],” Jacobson said. “The evolution of In Demand is at the forefront of the initiatives operators have wanted to develop to take their businesses to the next level.”

MIDDLEMAN MAINTENANCE

In Demand has secured long-term VOD rights to movie content from all the major Hollywood studios except The Walt Disney Co.’s Buena Vista Pay Television Inc., with which it is currently negotiating. It also has VOD deals with such content providers as Discovery Networks U.S., Court TV, Hallmark Entertainment and ESPN.

Still, some industry observers have questioned whether In Demand’s role as a middleman for PPV/VOD will remain relevant as operators continue to ramp up their own VOD and HD offerings. Indeed, some MSOs have already begun to deal with cable networks and content providers directly to gain access to VOD programming.

And just last month ESPN decided to bypass In Demand and go straight to operators with its out-of-market college football, college baseball and college basketball packages.

Jacobson, though, said the industry remains supportive of the company and it will continue to thrive as MSOs continue to push VOD and HD technologies.

Along with its three owners — Time Warner Cable, Comcast Cable Communications Inc. and Cox Communications Inc. — In Demand provides content for Charter Cable Communications Inc. and Adelphia Cable Communications’ VOD offerings. In Demand also distributes its two HD channels to Cablevision Systems Corp. and select Adelphia systems.

“The ongoing challenge will be to figure out how to effectively service the needs and objectives of the cable operators,” Jacobson said. “We’ve been successful doing that in the past, so I have every reason to believe that we will be successful doing it again.”

EYE ON SPORTS

According to Jacobson, In Demand will remain in the hunt for unique and innovative PPV and VOD event programming, particularly on the sports side. Along with the out-of-market packages from the National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball, the company offers operators an exclusive seven-channel National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing PPV package that provides in-car camera angles and other features for race fans on a weekly basis.

The NASCAR In Car On In Demand package, which earned a 2003 Television Emmy and 2004 Sports Emmy for its innovative technology and interactivity, has helped operators differentiate its product from the leading direct-broadcast satellite services, Jacobson said, although he would not reveal subscriber numbers for the package.

Still, In Demand does not hold the rights to the most successful sports package, the National Football League’s “NFL Sunday Ticket.” DirecTV Inc. has an exclusive agreement for the package until 2005, and industry observers believe cable will make an aggressive pitch when that deal ends.

But while In Demand would like to have the distribution rights, Jacobson said the company will not overpay for NFL Sunday Ticket. “It’s going to be a question of whether it makes sense from an economic standpoint,” he said.

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