Paying for Free VOD Fare

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Softening its past position, Comcast Corp. let out the word last week that it is considering compensating programmers for original content for its video-on-demand platform.

Both Stephen Burke, president of Comcast Cable Communications Inc., and Amy Banse, executive vice president of programming, talked about their MSO’s apparent willingness to pay for unique content — be it a local dating service or local employment service — for VOD during National Show sessions here.

In the past, Comcast has been vocal about its refusal to pay for programming destined for its VOD platform, which digital subscribers get for free. But at the show, both Banse and Burke discussed the circumstances in which their huge MSO might ante up for VOD-specific content.

“If it’s completely new incremental content, unique to the channel lineup, then I think we are beginning — let me put it this way — we are beginning to be open to discussions of paying something for that content,” Banse said last Monday while moderating a panel on VOD.

There was some follow-up to that later in the week, when Burke referred to — and elaborated on — Banse’s remarks during Wednesday’s closing CEO panel.

At that session, Time Warner Cable chairman Glenn Britt noted that he believed his MSO would “have to pay” for new VOD models, but wanted “to pay as little as possible.” Burke chimed in and said he agreed with Britt.

“Amy Banse on a panel earlier this week said if it’s incremental programming, we’re perfectly prepared to pay,” Burke said. “We have a lot of ideas. One of the creative, interesting parts about our business over the next five or 10 years is that there will be a lot of VOD ideas that use television differently. I think that a local version of American Idol, where you have kids in Philadelphia trying out to be the most talented person in Philadelphia, or a local version of a dating service or an employment service, those are wonderful ideas that our platform can use and we’re fully aware that we’re going to have to pay for those things, otherwise the companies that are going to help us produce those are never going to help us produce them.”

During her panel, Banse also restated Comcast’s past position that it is unwilling to pay networks any extra fees for VOD content that comes straight from linear networks. And Burke made the same point at the CEO session.

“What we’re really doing is taking programming that programmers have already produced and paid for — and don’t forget we’re spending a lot of money for that programming — and repurposing it in a way that programmers don’t have to bear the cost for, but is very attractive for our customers,” Burke said. “The reason why we’re doing it is at the end of the day we’ll have more customers, more digital customers, more customers in general and a more competitive product.”

VOD “is good for everybody” because it helps cable operators retain subscribers, and gives networks more exposure for their shows.

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