TNT’s betting on VOD

'Vegas' reruns from NBC U may start trend

NEW YORK — Groundbreaking may be too strong a word, but buzz is spreading throughout the industry that TNT has added video-on-demand rights to its purchase of the reruns of “Las Vegas” from NBC Universal.

The VOD window won’t kick in until TNT gets access to the “Las Vegas” reruns in fall 2007, but TNT will pony up a healthy license fee of $450,000 an episode for the entire “Las Vegas” package, which includes the right to play each original episode in primetime eight days after it runs on NBC.

The repurposing starts this fall, and will continue as long as NBC keeps renewing “Las Vegas” for its primetime schedule. NBC U has guaranteed TNT at least 88 episodes, which would cover original production through the 2006-07 season. TNT confirmed the “Las Vegas” deal but declined to talk about contractual details.

‘New, exciting’

“I have never negotiated video-on-demand in any of the dozens of series I’ve bought over the years for TNT and TBS,” said Bob Levi, former president of worldwide programming acquisitions for the Turner Entertainment Group. “This is a brand-new and exciting turn of events for Turner and for the industry.”

Until now, the major-studio distributors have shied away from allowing cable networks and cable operators to schedule broadcast-primetime shows on VOD, fearing that these extra plays might diminish the audience for the regularly scheduled runs of original episodes.

But, like all the majors, NBC U is also curious about the dollar potential of VOD, which could funnel additional revenues into the studio’s coffers. And “Las Vegas,” while one of NBC’s solid successes Monday at 9, is not a hit of the magnitude of “CSI” or “Desperate Housewives,” so it’s easier for the studio to experiment with VOD.

For further upside, there’s also the possibility that some VOD users not familiar with “Las Vegas” might discover the show and start watching it both on NBC and on TNT.

Trend setter

Now that NBC U has broken the VOD ice with “Las Vegas,” it’s almost certain that other studios will have to put VOD on the table when they negotiate their off-network programs with basic-cable networks.

Cable networks will push to get VOD rights because cable operators are insisting that the networks deliver an on-demand service with their regularly scheduled lineup.

The ops are finding through focus groups and other surveys that their customers are drawn to the convenience of watching a show when they want to, not when the network wants them to. Customers are also enamored of the fact that a VOD show is like a prerecorded videocassette: They can pause, rewind and fast-forward the program.