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CTAM '08: VOD Takes Center Stage

Boston -- Although video-on-demand (VOD) services have ushered in the time-shifting viewing habits that are the norm in the 21st century media landscape—as well as enabled cable providers and programmers to monetize programming and retain customers who have myriad content choices—the challenge for cable marketers is to turn what was once an ancillary business into a robust market segment.

That was the message from market leaders Tuesday at “The Future of VOD” breakfast panel at the CTAM Summit ’08 here.

"It's not a fringe business," insisted Diana Wechsler Kerekes, Comcast’s VP of Video Content. "It's not an after thought."

UFC, an on-demand service which also has a significant amount of Ultimate Fighting Championship content (60 hours a month) on male targeted Spike TV, has brought in a significant number of new customers. In fact 25 percent of users had purchased UFC on VOD had never bought VOD before, according to Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO Zuffa/UFC, who says UFC's young male viewers have been ready adapters of VOD: "They want what they want when they want it."

Doug Sylvester, COO of TVN, said the company has had it' best year in the movie category in "a long time."

The key, said Lisa Schwartz, Executive VP, Distribution, Operations and Business Development at IFC Entertainment, is exclusive content windows.

IFC has carved out a niche as the small screen's indie-film destination. The company, for instance, previews independent films from the festival circuit on its VOD platform before they hit theaters. And Hollywood is beginning to notice.

Steven Soderbergh's Che, starring Benico Del Toro as the iconic Latin American revolutionary, will premiere January 21 on IFC Entertainment's VOD platform, the same day the movie hits theaters.

"People in the film industry are looking at this and saying this is a really effective platform," said Schwartz.

But with the U.S. economy in a clear downward spiral, and Americans looking to trim expenses, will VOD continue to grow?

"Cable has always been recession resistant," said Steve Necessary, VP Product Development at Cox, before adding, "We're probably not recession proof."

But Necessary believes now is the time to "re-enforce the value we offer. We've got to keep driving that message."

And besides, adds IFC's Schwartz, consumers are likely to cut out discretionary spending outside the home first: "When the economy does not look good, there's an even bigger incentive for people who are staying home."

For more CTAM Summit '08 coverage click here.