July 1 could mark the dawning of a new day for
pay-per-view. While Request Television will be closing its doors, the industry will be
opening another door into relatively uncharted territory -- potentially unified under one
Operators, studios and event distributors who have always
believed in PPV's promise but were treading water with the divisive
Request-Viewer's Choice format now have no more excuses for which to blame the
industry's disappointing performance. Viewer's Choice has been anointed as
PPV's messiah and is expected to lead the industry out of its seemingly eternal
darkness into the light of multibillion dollar revenues currently enjoyed by other
It will certainly be a challenge. The network almost
overnight will have to erase more than a decade of unrealized expectations, bad press and
a lack of commitment from operators to rebuild the business. Viewer's Choice seems to
have the tools, the personnel and the vision -- as well as the support and financial
backing from the top MSOs -- to take the business to the next level.
Two weeks ago the network began its quest on the right foot
by announcing it will offer a 32-channel, near-video-on-demand service for the impending
digital revolution that will run on Tele-Communications Inc.'s Headend in the Sky
The danger is, however, that the network's success
could go to its head. With Viewer's Choice given almost complete control over the PPV
business, there are already rumblings from programmers that the network is playing
hardball on PPV event and movie licensing deals. Such actions could push marquee PPV
events -- and possibly movies -- to competitors, such as DirecTv Inc., that are eager to
overspend to gobble up exclusive programming deals.
The network will also have its hands full handling
marketing, promotion, collecting and bookkeeping for the entire cable industry, a job some
distributors and operators said the company does only marginally well.
If Viewer's Choice should stumble, there are other
companies ready and willing to step in. TVN Entertainment is already offering a 32-channel
digital service to several small cable systems, and they could ramp up to serve several
larger MSOs. On a smaller scale, BET Action PPV has said it will aggressively lure Request
alumni who may not like the Viewer's Choice culture.
Nevertheless, Viewer's Choice has been granted a
unique opportunity to truly turn PPV into the profit center that everyone envisioned more
than a decade ago.
"For PPV it's one of those watershed
moments," said PPV veteran Robert Meyrowitz, president of Semaphore Entertainment
Group. "If Viewer's Choice goes out aggressively and says 'we are PPV'
and makes it work, then all of us in the business will benefit."
DirecTv has already shown that PPV can succeed with a small
subscriber base. It's up to Viewer's Choice and operators to show that it can be
done across tens of millions of subscribers both in today's analog world and in
tomorrow's digital environment.