Demanding vid venture

IMS signs up WB, Disney titles for new VOD service

HONG KONG — Warner Bros. and Disney films will star on Hongkong Telecom IMS’ interactive video-on-demand service, which is set to launch in January.

In an announcement Thursday at Mip Asia, Hongkong Telecom IMS managing director William Lo said he had secured deals with Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution and Buena Vista. Lo told reporters that the studios would not allow him to release the names of films that will be available. He also would not put a figure on the value of the deals.

Lo also said that in two months he plans to announce the names of three other Hollywood studios that will provide content for the fledgling service.

The deal includes the VOD rights to Warner Bros.’ feature films distributed theatrically from 1997-99. Lo did not provide details of the agreement with Buena Vista.

“The deal marks WBITD’s first-ever licensing deal for video-on-demand,” said Jeffrey R. Schlesinger, president of Warner Bros. Intl. Television. “We are pleased that we have formed this new relationship with Hongkong Telecom IMS and we are looking forward to being a part of the launch of this exciting new media.”

IMS had already signed exclusive five-year deals with Golden Harvest and China Star to provide local fare. Lo said the Hollywood heavyweights would add a “foreign flavor” to the mix of 100 films on offer to subscribers at any one time.

The company hopes to see interactive television find its way into Australia and Britain through London-listed parent group Cable and Wireless, provided that communications bottlenecks could be overcome.

“My guess is that some of the things you are seeing here will be available in those two markets within the next two years,” Lo said.

As it stands now, films on VOD will be released in the post-video window. Lo said he guessed that VOD would enjoy the same release window as videos within the next two years.

In addition to buying programming, IMS is getting into the production side of the business. It has agreed to finance an animated TV series based on a pig named McMug, which is a favorite character of fans of Hong Kong comic books.

Lo said he expects the service to have 200,000 subscribers by the end of 1998.

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