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Comcast Taps Horror Vein

Comcast Corp., in partnership with Sony Pictures Entertainment, is scaring up a horror on-demand service that is expected to come to life on Halloween.

The unnamed multiplatform service — launching online, as well as via Comcast On Demand on Oct. 31 — will be ad-supported. The service will eventually include a wireless component, which will feature horror ringtones, sound effects and other features.

The horror-and-thriller on-demand offering is the long-awaited first fruit of the joint venture that Comcast and Sony formed last year, after they teamed up for the $4.9 billion acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc.

The new service will run programming from the Sony and MGM libraries, a roster that includes movie titles such as The Grudge, Carrie, The Blob, Night of the Living Dead, Anaconda, Ghoulies, The Craft and I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as TV shows like The Outer Limits and Poltergeist: The Legacy.

While the horror offering will be part of Comcast’s free on-demand platform, the cable operator will pitch the service to other cable operators at the National Show this week in Atlanta.

CHANNELING FEAR

Programmers have taken a number of stabs at the genre. Sci Fi Channel airs some horror content, and Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. has Monsters HD, part of its Voom HD Networks suite of channels. In addition, former AMC Networks president Kate McEnroe has been trying to get a horror channel launched for Lionsgate, the independent movie studio that produced Saw and Hostel. Meanwhile, the Horror Channel, a video broadband service, is slated to debut next month.

“Horror is incredibly hot right now,” said Diane Robina, who was just appointed president of emerging networks for Comcast. “Twenty percent of the films that are out now are horror films. … In 2005, horror was a billion-dollar business. It’s sort of a tipping point, when you see all these things that are happening. DVD sales are up by 400%, the box office is up, mainstream stars are going in there.”

Robina, whose previous title was president of Comcast-Sony Networks, the joint venture, reports to president of Comcast Programming Jeff Shell. The new service will take aim at the 18-to-34 demographic.

“The emotional connection I’m really looking for in the brand is this idea of fear,” Robina said. “I’m really trying to tap into that.”

The service’s Web site will have an area for video and music downloads, exclusive horror outtakes, original animation and behind-the-scenes footage.

For the debut of the on-demand service, Comcast may run a block of its programming on a linear channel, according to Robina.

“We are looking for some nesting opportunities, maybe stunting, on the launch on Halloween,” she said. “Maybe we’d put it on a linear network for that, maybe driving [viewers] from there to the other platforms.”

BROADBAND PAY ROUTE

Horror Channel president Nicholas Psaltos faces trying to migrate genre fans next month from what has been a free Web site — horrorchannel.com, attracting 500,000 to 600,000 unique visitors monthly — to a subscription and pay-per-view broadband service.

He said the relaunched service, with about 500 hours of mostly independent scream flicks, could reach more horror fans via broadband than as a scheduled channel. He said broadband fees and advertising opportunities should bring in more revenue than could be obtained from scant distribution on cable or satellite. It earns advertising revenue from studios promoting horror-based theatrical and DVD releases.

“Given that consumer’s viewing habits are changing, the installed power players are going to have to rethink their strategies,” Psaltos said. “Eventually I see cable companies becoming big [Internet service providers] on steroids. Instead of controlling and being gatekeepers of content, they’ll just become gatekeepers of the bandwidth and let programmers like us handle the programming.”

R. Thomas Umstead contributed to this story.