Oaters on-demand sold, Malone looks to up digital subs

Paramount TV has jumped feet first into the subscription-video-on-demand business, selling exclusive rights to the Golden Oldie TV series “Gunsmoke” and “Combat!,” plus 136 Western titles originally produced by Republic Pictures, to John Malone’s Starz!

“This deal is just another example of pay TV’s continued expansion into the on-demand category,” said Bob Leighton, president of Starz Encore Entertainment.

Starz!’s strategy is to create a varied menu of programming that will help cable operators to drive digital boxes into subscribers’ homes. These boxes will contain a feature that, for an extra monthly fee of between $3 and $6, will allow subscribers to call up any movie title or series episode available in a given month at the subscriber’s convenience.

An extra bonus for the subscriber, Leighton said, is that the movie or series would have full video-on-demand capability, allowing the viewer to hit the pause or rewind button just as though she were watching a DVD or videocassette.

Starz! will use the 176 episodes of “Gunsmoke” on its multiplex Western Channel and “Combat!” on its Action Channel. The 136 Western movies include a few A movies like “Johnny Guitar,” “Angel & the Badman” and “Three Faces West,” as well as dozens of B pictures featuring cowboy heroes like Roy Rogers, Rex Allen and Rocky Lane.

Digital subscribers who pony up $12 for the main pay-TV network Starz! also get the Super-Pak, consisting of 11 other multiplex channels for no added cost. The extra subscription-video-on-demand monthly fee would allow the subscriber to pull up any program at will through VOD.

Leighton said his focus-group studies show that viewers would rather pay a monthly fee for up to 100 choices than fork over a separate pay-per-view fee every time they call up a movie or series.

“Gunsmoke” is available this year, the movies will begin early in 2003 and “Combat!” starts in October 2003.

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