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C4 bows to demand

B'caster offers Brit sked via broadband

LONDON — U.K. hybrid broadcaster Channel 4 will bow its VOD service on Dec. 6 in what CEO Andy Duncan claims will be a “global first” for a broadcaster.

C4 is making its entire British-produced schedule available via broadband to personal computers alongside an archive of 500 or so hours of fare.

Programs from the sked will be available for 30 days after the original broadcast.

Auds initially will pay 99p ($1.88) to rent shows or $3.80 to buy them. Then, starting in February, subscribers can pay a monthly fee of $7.50 for the TV service, $9.50 for a film service — or $11.40 for a bundled package.

“This is the start of a revolution,” Duncan declared. “It positions Channel 4 at the global cutting edge of the convergence of television and the Web. This is the first time a major broadcaster has made all its commissioned content available online.”

Duncan, who said the investment was comparable to startup costs for C4’s digital upstart networks, indicated the service, 4oD, could be profitable within three years.

He predicted between a half and a third of all U.K. viewing would be time-shifted by 2012.

Provided broadcasters seize the initiative, services such as 4oD would help keep the TV industry from having its business model undermined in the way that Web-based producers have eaten into music business and newspaper revenues, reckoned Duncan.

But 4oD will launch minus some of C4’s most successful shows — most of the net’s high-profile U.S. acquisitions like “Friends,” “Frasier” and “Sex and the City” — because VOD rights agreements have not yet been struck with Hollywood.

“The rights situation for these shows is improving all the time and growing all the time,” said C4’s new business director Ron Henwood.

However, he conceded the net’s most popular import, “The Simpsons,” was unlikely ever to be featured as part of the VOD service because U.K. rights are shared with satcaster BSkyB.

Advertising will be carried by 4oD starting in April, although it was unclear from Duncan and Henwood what form it will take.

As a pay model, Web-delivered VOD is in its early stages in Blighty.

Since April, C4 has offered pay-per-view downloads of “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives,” but Duncan disclosed that this initiative had so far lost money for the broadcaster.

C4 also announced it has agreed to supply material to soon-to-be launched VOD service BT Vision, available to the telco’s U.K. broadband subscribers.

As part of that arrangement, auds will be able to watch C4 shows up to eight days following broadcast.

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