VOD ready to speak in tongues

Eurocinema to satisfy 'underserved' foreign film aud

NEW YORK — American TV viewers who love foreign films routinely tear their hair out in frustration: Less than a fourth of the schedules of IFC and Sundance consists of subtitled movies, and most of those get shunted to off-the-wall time periods. Even fewer foreign-language movies turn up on Cinemax and Starz! Cinema, two other networks that initially showed promise.

Forced into a starvation diet, these American viewers have become “a terribly underserved audience,” says Sebastien Perioche, an entrepreneur who wants to remedy the situation.

As president of a video-on-demand network called Eurocinema, the French-born, New York-based Perioche is convinced there are plenty of cable subscribers in the U.S. willing to pony up $2.99 every time they call up a two-hour, commercial-free package consisting of a subtitled movie, a short subject, and a director interview. Each of these packages will feature a host, ranging from Saira Mohan, the actress-model who does the honors on the demo reel, to foreign-film experts brimming with information and anecdotes about the movie.

Eurocinema, which has a sister European company called Euroventures, has collected about $4 million to cover its startup expenses and is looking for more venture-capital money in the U.S. to enhance its credibility with cable operators.

Perioche has already landed a deal with TVN, a distributor of movies and events on pay-per-view VOD. The arrangement calls for Eurovision to launch its VOD platform in midsummer to more than a million subscribers through Charter Communications, Insight Communications and RCN, Perioche says.

RCN will distribute Eurocinema to digital subscribers in New York and Boston, two cities that Perioche says should be particularly receptive to his strategy because of their concentration of upscale, educated residents.

Perioche plans to start small, with three two-hour packages. He says it’s too early for him to talk about specific titles, although U.S. premieres of French and Italian movies will be highest on the agenda.

“My pitch to cable operators,” he says, “is that Eurocinema will offer fresh, branded content that their subscribers can’t find anywhere else on the dial.”

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Perioche does not aspire to eventually turn Eurocinema into a full-time cable net. Cable vet Larry Namer, Perioche’s American consultant, says, “I told Sebastien that he’d be banging his head against the wall if he tried to sell a 24/7 network to cable operators.”

Namer says operators have lost interest in handing over their valuable real estate to 24/7 networks of limited appeal. Instead, these ops are starting to drool over the dollar potential of VOD now that it’s available in more than 10 million cable homes, he says.

“And upscale viewers who are passionate about foreign films,” Namer says, “will be ready and willing to lay out some cash to indulge their passion.”

Perioche adds his eventual goal is “to build up a video-on-demand database of movies,” offering the entire package to customers on subscription (at, say, $9.95 a month) rather than through pay-per-view.

“This concept won’t be an easy sell,” says Lynne Buening, a cable-programming consultant. As she analyzes it, Perioche will have to find a way to market Eurovision so young people, who generally hate reading subtitles, will lower their resistance because of the quality of the movies.

Older people who fondly remember movies of great directors like Fellini, Kurosawa, Truffaut and Bergman, she says, will have to be convinced to take a flier, not only on the VOD platform but on a new movie that’s an unknown commodity.

“The arthouse crowd can be tough,” says Rebecca Glashow, director of central planning and management for In Demand, the biggest distributor of PPV movies and events. “These people may not have a huge appetite for foreign films that never picked up a theatrical release in the U.S.”