In Demand bumps PPV for high-def

Niche pix pushed out as TV set prices begin to drop

NEW YORK — Fans of low-budget action movies, foreign films and independent American pictures are losing the two pay-per-view channels, Urban and Cinema, that In Demand created last year as outlets for offbeat movies.

The channels are being driven out of existence by the two high-definition TV networks In Demand will launch on Sept. 15. Even though In Demand is the dominant distributor of PPV movies and events in the U.S., the company will program the high-def channels as digital basic-cable networks, not pay-per-view.

Programming on the high-def networks will consist of sports events from the Tennis Channel and the College Sports Network, as well as theatrical movies and TV series from packagers like HD Net.

“This decision is another example in the evolution of cable television from linear channels to on-demand digital programming and high-definition pictures,” said Dan York, senior VP of programming for In Demand.

Dropping the Urban and Cinema channels, which launched in February 2002, was a tough choice for In Demand because they were often the only place where people who love recently released specialized movies could find them on the TV dial: Most of the titles made too little impact at the box office to take up residence on the regular PPV channels that featured the higher-grossing pictures.

But at least 7 million of these aficionados of oddball movies will be able to pay for them via video-on-demand, which can accommodate unconventional tastes by offering a selection of hundreds of movies at one time for an average retail price of $3.95 a title.

York said industry projections indicate that by December, more than 10 million cable homes will have access to video-on-demand, and that figure could double by the end of 2004.

In Demand is pushing more heavily into high-def because the price of some of the 27-inch high-def TV sets is dropping below $1,000 for the first time, spurring hopes among set manufacturers that hundreds of thousands of people will buy the sets during the holiday season. “This Christmas could be a watershed for high-def,” York said.

Seven million homes already own high-def TV sets, but only 2 million of them have shelled out for the decoder that would allow them to get the full benefit of a high-def image, according to the Yankee Group.