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SYDNEY — Universal will funnel movies to Boxoffice, Oz paybox Foxtel Digital’s quasi-VOD service, leaving Sony the only U.S. studio not supplying product.

Service, which launched March 14, airs firstrun movies every 30 minutes on 27 channels.

Deal with Universal hasn’t been announced, but word filtered through Oz broadcasting circles this week.

There will be a three-month window between a film’s DVD/video release and near-VOD preem, down from the customary six months. Warners was the first major to opt for the shorter window when it signed up (Daily Variety, May 3).

Foxtel is charging A$5.95 ($4.16) per movie. Subscribers to the premium package are entitled to two viewings per month.

The paybox’s shareholders News Corp., Kerry Packer’s Publishing & Broadcasting and telco Telstra have invested $420 million in Foxtel Digital.

Foxtel has more than 250,000 digital subs, bringing the number of homes connected to digital to more than 400,000, including those serviced by regional platform Austar, Foxtel chief exec Kim Williams told an Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce lunch Thursday.

He contrasted that with the fact that 320,000 digital terrestrial set-top boxes have been sold in nearly 3½ years.

Williams said Foxtel is on track to turn a profit by mid-2006, and he forecast that the current pay TV penetration rate of 23% will grow to at least 35% by 2008.

Just 3% of Foxtel Digital subscribers are choosing the basic package vs. 20% who did so for the analog service. More than 50% are shelling out for the premium tier, compared with fewer than 5% pre-digital.

In the next 12 months, Foxtel will introduce initiatives including digital video recorders, interactive voting and onscreen messaging. The interactive sports facility, now available only on selected Australian Rules Football and Rugby League matches, will be extended to cricket, Super 12 rugby, basketball and tennis.

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