Voom hears a boom

Hi-def service snaps up 193 Miramax titles

Chuck Dolan’s high-definition programming service called Voom has bought exclusive high-definition rights to 193 movies from Miramax Films and its Dimension Pictures sibling for a total license fee of $10 million-$15 million.

Voom offers its subscribers 38 HD channels, including 10 movie services featuring a range of content from Westerns to foreign films to black-and-white classics.

The movies in the deal include 64 martial-arts pictures starring such action veterans as Jet Li, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee and Chow Yun Fat. Foreign-language titles make up 28 more movies, led by “Amelie” and “Farewell My Concubine.”

Four pictures are listed as representative of the English-language grouping from Miramax/Dimension: “Clerks,” “Prophecy II,” “The Picture Bride” and Woody Allen’s “Celebrity.”

Profit in doubt

Despite the deal, many Wall Street analysts are skeptical of Voom’s profit-making potential. Voom’s parent company Cablevision Systems is still planning to spin it off into a separate operation along with AMC, WE: Women’s Entertainment, IFC and a batch of regional sports networks, all of which are part of Dolan’s Rainbow Media Enterprises.

The reason analysts have doubts about Voom is that only 28,700 households have signed up for the service in the past year, according to Cablevision, which said Voom lost $72 million in the second quarter alone.

People aren’t feverishly signing up for Voom because the installation and rental of the satellite dish can cost as much as $499. That’s only for starters. Voom sets its monthly rental fee for the digital box at $9.50, and the combination of 21 HD channels and 85 basic-cable networks cost subscribers an additional $49.90 a month. The full package, encompassing all of the HD channels, has an $89.90-a-month pricetag. (Among the ad-supported networks not available to Voom customers are Lifetime, the Weather Channel, HGTV, Food Network, TV Guide Channel, Golf Channel and National Geographic Channel.)

Other outlets

Since DirecTV and EchoStar are adding lots of high-def services to their offerings, Richard Greenfield, an analyst with Fulcrum Global Partners, said satellite customers don’t need Voom to satisfy their hankering for HD programming.

But Rick Sands, chief operating officer of Miramax, said the naysayers have underestimated Cablevision in the past.

“Chuck Dolan is a creative visionary who has the guts to compete in the early stages of what will be a great concept,” Sands said. “High-definition television has proven to be the most desirable medium through which viewers can enjoy a filmmaker’s vision as it was meant to be seen.”

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