VOD’s In the NBC Universe, Says Baker

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NBC Universal Cable is talking with cable distributors about developing genre-specific and broader content-driven VOD services that could launch by year-end, its affiliate chief said last week.

Bridget Baker — promoted to executive vice president of cable distribution at NBC Universal Cable from senior vice president — said VOD offerings drawing from Today, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno and Late Night With Conan O’Brien, plus movies and TV shows from Universal Studios, are under consideration.

“We have a large asset base to draw from. I also think there are news and information shows from CNBC or MSNBC. I think Hardball [with Chris Matthews] could work in VOD,” she said.

Baker leads the 75-member national-accounts team securing distribution for Bravo, Bravo HD+, CNBC, MSNBC, CNBC World, ShopNBC, USA Network, Sci Fi Channel, Trio, Telemundo, mun2 and the Olympic Games on cable.

She said VOD offerings are now taking shape. “Comcast [Corp.] has been very vocal about the opportunities it sees with VOD. Other operators have expressed different views. We’d like to develop services that meet their needs.”

The first VOD applications could materialize by year-end, she said.

Baker didn’t delve into rate-card issues. But NBC Universal Cable senior vice president of new media Jean-Briac Perrette, at a Manhattan forum, said VOD from Sci Fi, USA or Universal Studios would likely have to command financial compensation. (See story, page 12.)

Compensation issues loom large for USA, as affiliation deals with a number of distributors expire next year. Baker talked up the general-entertainment network’s ratings gains, and a larger role in NBC’s Olympics sphere, as negotiating pluses.

Sources peg USA’s monthly subscriber fee at 35 to 40 cents.

Sci Fi has occupied much of Baker and her team’s time since NBC merged with Vivendi Universal Entertainment in May.

“We’ve spent a lot of effort, with some success, trying to move it to [the] basic analog space from digital basic,” she said. “The perception that Sci Fi is a network that’s all Star Trek reruns and watched by geeks is wrong. It’s a network with quality original programming and miniseries generating strong ratings.”

Baker declined to discuss Trio, saying no corporate decision has been made yet about the pop culture channel’s fate.

Baker also talked up CNBC World, which added 600,000 subscribers in Chicago area via Comcast in September, closing in on 20 million total. Satellite-TV providers DirecTV Inc. and Dish Network are other key distributors, along with Time Warner Cable.

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