The number of subscribers who’ll be able to buy pay-per-view movies and events will double over the next four years to 41 million, covering 70% of all cable households in the U.S.

That was the prediction of Robert Friedman, president of New Line TV, speaking at a National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences luncheon Wednesday on the subject of “The Business of TV: A Brave New World.”

A key element in the growth of PPV will be technological advances that allow cable operators to funnel as many as 500 channels into subscribers’ homes by the year 2000, Friedman said. With more than 100 of those channels given over to PPV movies, he continued, “The subscriber would have the option of convenient access to a hit movie, which could be available every 15 minutes” because it would be playing on eight different channels.

Friedman said the so-called “video-on-demand” marketing of theatrical movies could turn PPV into a $ 25 billion-a-year business before the decade is out.

But he was somewhat skeptical about the idea of premiering movies on PPV the same week they open in theaters. “If a whole slate of pictures from one studio went on pay-per-view before their theatrical release,” he said, “theater owners have said that they wouldn’t book them.”

Friedman doesn’t rule out the occasional early release of a theatrical on PPV. He says some pix lend themselves to charitable PPV premieres, where “some of the proceeds would go to a cause like AIDS research.”

Although PPV movies will take up a big proportion of a 500-channel cable systems, Friedman said, other channels will include “foreign-language networks, more adult programming, more children’s programming, lots of educational channels and service-oriented networks.”

He said cable hasn’t even begun to tap into the lucrative home-shopping business. While QVC and the Home Shopping Network were chalking up respectable sales of $ 2 billion last year, he continued, the total sales of merchandise to people using published shopping catalogues was a cool $ 50 billion.

Friedman said New Line is engineering “strategic alliances” with everything from cable networks to videogame companies.

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