In Demand for PPV

Viewer's Choice chooses new name and strategy

Viewer’s Choice, the largest distributor of pay-per-view movies and events in the U.S., is changing its name to In Demand starting Jan. 1.

A multimillion-dollar marketing campaign will set the table for the makeover, featuring candid black-and-white photos of people like Reese Witherspoon (her movie “Cruel Intentions” premieres on PPV later this month), boxer Oscar De La Hoya (his PPV fight takes place Saturday) and wrestler Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Program focus

Gavin Harvey, senior VP of marketing/brand strategy for Viewer’s Choice, said he’ll accompany the name change with a fresh consumer message: Instead of stressing the convenience of not having to leave home and trek to the videostore to see a new movie on cassette, “we’re going to promise viewers the best entertainment on TV: the best Hollywood movies, the best boxing, the best wrestling, and premier events like Woodstock ’99.”

V.C. serves more than 1,700 cable systems, which reach about 27 million addressable households.

One reason for the change, Harvey said, is that some affiliated cable systems of Viewer’s Choice set aside as few as two channels for PPV (out of the 35 that V.C. programs), which means that the hit movies in a given month don’t run very often. So these subscribers wouldn’t exactly delight in being told how convenient it is to watch PPV movies.

Backers buoyant

Mindy Herman, president and CEO of Viewer’s Choice, says the company’s five cable operator-owners — AT&T/TCI, Time Warner Entertainment-Advance/Newhouse Communications, Comcast Corp., Media One and Cox Communications — are all gung-ho about the name change.

“We all think that calling ourselves In Demand represents the next level of the pay-per-view business, which people have kept expecting for a number of years now,” Herman said.

The next level refers to the strategy of most cable operators to rebuild their cable systems digitally so they can set aside as many as 50 channels for PPV movies and events, matching the PPV capacity of satellite distributors such as DirecTV and Echostar.

Studio affinity

The major studios love DirecTV because the volume of channels it sets aside for PPV movies creates “near video on demand,” allowing the month’s hit movie to become available every half-hour on any given day.

Only 1.5 million cable subscribers now have access to digital PPV. But Viewer’s Choice quotes Paul Kagan Associates as predicting that the 1.5-million figure will explode to 23 million digital cable households over the next five years.