Comcast taps Sony library for service

Sony Pictures Entertainment and Comcast have jumped on the horror/suspense bandwagon, unveiling a new on-demand program service today at the National Cable Show.

Still-unnamed service, set to begin operation Oct. 31, will be the first network created to draw on the thousands of movies and series brought together from the separate libraries owned by Columbia Pictures and MGM after the Sony/MGM merger last year.

Inventory includes theatricals such as “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Poltergeist,” “Ghoulies,” “Fright Night,” “Child’s Play” and its sequels and “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

More recent titles including “The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “When a Stranger Calls,” “Panic Room” and last year’s version of “The Amityville Horror” will make their way to the service a few years down the road.

TV series include “Stargate: SG-1,” “The Outer Limits,” “Poltergeist: The Series” and “Dead Like Me.”

The movies and series will be free to Comcast’s digital subscribers. Comcast and Sony will make money from advertising and from license fees ponied up by other cable operators.

“We asked 18- to 34-year-olds who are hardcore fans of the horror genre if they’d rather pay for the service with no commercials, or get it free but with commercials,” said Comcast prexy of emerging networks Diane Robina, the point person on the net with Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures TV.

The freebie option won in a landslide, with some of the interviewees perhaps gleefully contemplating the ability of VOD’s fast-forward button to zap any commercials.

Robina said her research with young people has convinced her that, even if the video-on-demand horror web is successful, Comcast may not try to morph it into a full 24/7 cable network. About two-thirds of adults younger than 35 “are strong users of VOD,” she said. “They’re not as attached to linear cable networks.”

“Comcast is committed to VOD,” said Jerry McKenna, head of programming for Cable One, a top-10 multisystem cable operator, “because the service distinguishes Comcast from its satellite competitors.”

Satcasters DirecTV and EchoStar can’t offer VOD platforms, so cable systems will try to use that edge to protect their subscriber base, even if they end up charging a higher monthly fee for a digital box than satellite does, according to McKenna.

Robina said the horror channel will be accompanied by a Web site chockfull of downloadable features like short films and supplementary DVD-type extras to bolster the VOD movies.

“Comcast is putting its money where its mouth is,” said Mike Egan, a cable consultant and partner in Renaissance Media. “It’s trying to figure out where the television of the future is going, putting all of this stuff on and saying to its customers: ‘This is great. Use it.’ “

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