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On-Demand's Strong Voice

Sony's Thanda Belker has spent her career on television's cutting edge.

After getting her bachelor's degree from Byrn Mawr and her MBA and MS in broadcast management from Boston University, Belker went to work for upstart TeleTV, the futuristic TV company started in 1995 by four of the Baby Bells and boasting a team of show-biz and TV heavyweights, including Howard Stringer, now Sony chairman/CEO; ousted Disney President and former power agent Michael Ovitz; former Fox Television Entertainment Group Chairman Sandy Grushow and former Fox TV Studio head David Grant.

TeleTV received a good deal of attention at the time but was a bit ahead of itself. One of its linchpins was video-on-demand (VOD), at the time more a concept than a reality.

“It opened my eyes to a whole new way of watching TV,” says Belker, a native of Burma/Myanmar. “I've been committed to growing this area for more than 10 years, and I don't see the end.”

After TeleTV failed, she spent four years at Buena Vista Television building its pay-TV business. She has been at Sony for seven years and was promoted to Sony Pictures Television (SPT) senior VP of pay television in April 2006.

During her 13 years in the industry, such technologies as pay-per-view and video-on-demand have become a common part of customers' cable- or satellite-TV experiences. And frequent travelers are accustomed to ordering a wide selection of first-run films when they check into a hotel.

One of Belker's long-time clients, iNDemand CEO Rob Jacobson, says, “We did a really ground-breaking deal with Sony in the early days of VOD. There was some reluctance on the part of the studio, and, thanks to her, we were able to pull it forward. She's smart, she's creative, and she's a problem-solver. Those three things have really helped her.”

Her bosses have noticed. SPT President of Distribution John Weiser says, “Thanda's expertise is eclipsed only by the quality of her relationships. She's a great team player, who has earned a bright future.”

Licensing film and TV content may seem like a cut-and-dried task, but Belker's job involves much more than just selling content to clients. In many ways, she operates like an advisor helping new companies grow their burgeoning businesses.

At the moment, Belker is busy licensing the first-run of Sony's blockbuster Spiderman 3, which opened to the biggest box office in history. But even when there's not a big movie opening, she always has plenty to keep her occupied.

“This job is all encompassing,” says the wife and mother of one. “It's a lot of marketing, negotiating and coming up with brand-new ideas. We figure out business models that make sense on both sides and help our distributors sell more of their on-demand services.

“Each of our customers is at a different level of commitment to on-demand or new media,” she adds. “The whole thing is evolving. In this constant state of evolution, it really comes down to listening to what they want and then thinking creatively about how we can meet their needs right now and into the foreseeable future.”