Comcast Animates Its Platform

Comcast's strong desire to fill its VOD servers in Philadelphia with free content — and the reluctance of many major cable programmers to provide content for no charge — has created a window of opportunity for nascent networks who've found it difficult to land full-time carriage deals.

One of those programmers is Anime Network, which is distributing Japanese animated childrens' programming and more adult-oriented fare in the U.S.

Anime, which has also landed a VOD deal with RCN Corp., approached Comcast last year, and soon concluded a contract that calls for its to provide 25 hours of anime fare per month to the MSO's greater Philadelphia system. Half of that content is refreshed every six weeks.

Last month, the deal was extended to Comcast's northern New Jersey systems.

"Anime is doing very well," said Comcast Eastern division vice president of new-products marketing Melanie Sommer.

Comcast houses the Anime product in the same "Cutting Edge" section of its Philadelphia system as Atom Television. Programs include half-hour episodes of Spriggan, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Excel Saga, Martian Successor Nadesico, Gasaraki, Noir, Dai-Guard, Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, Orphen, Golden Boy, Steel Angel Kurumi, Sorcerer Hunters, Burn Up Excess, Ninja Resurrection, RahXephon, Those Who Hunt Elves, Gunsmith Cats, Rune Solider, Samurai X and Blue Seed, all sans commercials.

"Spriggan and Gasaraki have been very popular," a spokesman said.

The latter is a series set during a conflict in the Middle East that closely parallels the 1991 Persian Gulf War, perhaps explaining its popularity.

Foot in the door

Action-oriented and more adult animation is growing more popular, Anime executives said, evidenced by the "Toonami" and "Adult Swim" blocks on Cartoon Network.

Anime hopes to eventually launch a linear channel, but the initial plunge into VOD gives the network a foot in the door — and a basis for proving the content's relative popularity to cable operators.

"We thought VOD was a pretty good fit for us," a spokesman said. "The anime audience is very forward-leaning and very tech-savvy. They appreciate the interactive functionality of VOD and the fact you can watch a title more than once.

"Anime plots tend to be very complex. There are complicated story arcs and subplots. To back up and double-check something is pretty important."

Currently, Anime runs its programming without commercials, even though the episodes carried ads in Japan. VOD content does reference Anime's DVD business, which has been the main outlet for U.S. consumers to get hooked on the product.