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Creating the 'National Art House'

Revolution is nothing new to cable veterans who have seen their fair share of seismic developments, from the first all-out wiring of communities, to the advent of premium services to the introduction of pay-per-view. So the mantra that has echoed down cable convention hallways for the last few years — that video-on-demand will revolutionize television — has been heard and largely accepted.

But with VOD still in its infancy, questions remain as to whether this technology will reach its potential and be of true value to consumers, or will instead follow a model more like the over-hyped dot-com companies of the last decade, and meet a similar fate.

The technological promise of VOD is now a reality. Cable-system upgrades are largely in place. Thanks to heavy lifting by cable operators, VOD is now available in more than 20 million households nationwide. Its nascent status and growth potential are both clearly visible.

Now, the burden of ensuring that VOD reaches its consumer potential falls largely on the programming community. As content providers, we must enable cable operators to maximize the return on their enormous capital investment.

Instead of providing recycled programming in a VOD format, it is our challenge as programmers to provide cable operators and consumers with a product that delivers on the basic promise we made when digital cable was first introduced: To open a new world of choice to viewers, to expand their information and entertainment options and to personalize their viewing experience.

It is time to look beyond the simple concept of on-demand content. We must now take-on the responsibility of providing cable operators and consumers with content that is in demand.

We must provide unique and fresh programming that can be used to demonstrate the value of VOD technology. It is up to us to create a real consumer value proposition for on-demand.

Almost 10 years ago, the Independent Film Channel undertook a mission to bring independent film to a national audience. At that time, the network focused on empowering viewers across the country with the ability to see independent films that were unavailable in theaters and video stores in their communities.

Recent independent film releases like My Big Fat Greek Wedding
and Y Tu Mama Tambien
have demonstrated the public's growing interest in these personal stories with a point of view. No longer is the public satisfied with having access only to big studio films, or those few crossover independent hits they can find in a video store. Today, consumers hear the buzz from New York and Los Angeles, and they now want the same experience wherever they live.

VOD gives IFC the opportunity to continue developing our original mission, and to satisfy this increasing programming demand.

According to a recent survey by Centris, over half the customers who disconnect digital cable claim it is not worth the extra money. Many note that there is little differentiation between digital and analog content.

The potential of VOD responds directly to these concerns. But the only way VOD will ever realize its promise is if we, as programmers, provide content that uniquely demonstrates the power of the technology.

The German novelist Peter Weiss wrote, "We invented the revolution but we don't know how to run it." Ideas — invention — are often the easiest part. Today's challenge is to now prove we can "run the revolution."

We must use VOD to better serve the programming needs of the cable consumers, not only so existing cable customers upgrade their service to digital, but so the upgraded service provides increasing value over the long term.