Channels to offer access to movies, TV shows

Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution is mounting a global effort to launch a slew of cable, satellite and broadband channels offering on-demand access to a range of WB-produced series and pics.

Initiative to launch overseas outlets branded “Warner TV” is designed to get the studio in on the ground floor of a number of cutting-edge cable, satellite and Web platforms now rolling out in key territories including the U.K., Europe and Asia, according to WBITD prexy Jeffrey Schlesinger. It’s exactly the kind of new-media distribution of traditional film and TV product that lies at the crux of the residuals battle between striking scribes and Hollywood majors. 

The Warner TV channels will offer video-on-demand access to selected movies and TV shows. In other words, they won’t be programmed like traditional channels, with shows airing at set times, as the studio has done in Latin America for more than a decade with its Warner Channel. Instead, viewers will be able to make a la carte picks at any time from an ever-changing menu of titles, ranging from WB films to segs of series such as “The West Wing,” “Nip/Tuck,” “Friends” and “Two and a Half Men.”

The increased channel capacity and two-way capabilities of overseas digital distribs such as Virgin Media’s high-end cable service and British Telecom’s BT Vision IPTV platform has made the time ripe for Warners to head into the overseas market with its library product packaged for on-demand consumption. If the Warner TV channels prove popular, it’ll be found money for the studio.

“It’s a brand new revenue stream,” Schlesinger said. “The costs here are much lower than creating a linear channel. You don’t have as much on-air promotion that you have to do. You don’t have as much scheduling or advertising sales infrastructure. You don’t have to worry about commercial insertion.”

The Warner TV channels will take different shapes within the on-demand realm as the studio experiments and learns over time what kind of services consumers in different territories respond to, Schlesinger said. In some instances, Warner TV will be offered as part of a subscription video-on-demand package in which consumers pay a monthly fee for all-you-can-eat access. In other cases, it’ll be on a pay-per-download basis, and in some cases, the programs will be offered free via ad-supported Web streaming.

“We’re putting our feet down in all of those areas, and in a year or two, we’ll have a better perspective on consumer behavior,” Schlesinger said. “We’re phasing it in in such a way that we don’t kill our traditional business.”

Indeed, the biggest concern for Warner Bros. is that the new channels not cannibalize the studio’s existing TV licensing pacts and relationships with major overseas broadcasters nor put a damper on DVD sales. That will require careful selection of a smattering of series and episodes at any given time, and delaying by weeks or months the availability of the studio’s newest products, such as this season’s promising frosh skeins “Pushing Daisies,” “The Big Bang Theory” and “Chuck.”

“We’re not looking to undermine our broadcasters in any way, and frankly, if you don’t have your shows on the big channels, no one will be interested in finding them in an on-demand zone,” Schlesinger said. “For TV product and features, this is all a secondary window. It’s complementary.”

Warner TV services launched quietly earlier this month in the U.K. as a subscription video-on-demand offering on Virgin Media’s digital cable service and British Telecom’s Vision platform. Studio has closed a deal with France’s IPTV service Orange for a channel to bow by year’s end, and it quietly launched on France’s Free IPTV platform in July. In Japan, Warner TV bowed in September on Usen Corp.’s GyaO broadband platform in both subscription VOD and ad-supported streaming formats.

“In the next 12 months, I wouldn’t be surprised if we went up to a dozen channels. A lot of it has to do with the rollout of IPTV and the transitioning of existing platforms from simple (subscription) VOD to more sophisticated technology,” Schlesinger said. “For us, it’s a small amount of revenue to begin with, but over the next few years, as we add outlets, it will become substantial.”

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