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Niche-Event Providers Welcome Digital Push

Looking to maximize distribution and marketing opportunities for niche pay-per-view events, small and midsized content providers are anxiously awaiting the widespread deployment of digital and broadband services to cable homes.

PPV-event executives believe the rollout of multichannel digital-PPV channels and high-speed Internet services to subscribers will provide greater access to targeted audiences than traditional analog PPV and allow for more direct-marketing and promotional opportunities for nonmarquee PPV events.

Niche events such as concerts and international sports have had a difficult time establishing a presence in a PPV-event industry dominated by boxing and wrestling.

Niche-event executives argued that the more lucrative ring-sports events often overshadow the smaller, less universally appealing niche events in terms of scheduling and marketing.

And with deals for such events often signed weeks before they debut, the often strict scheduling rules imposed by In Demand-at least three months' notice to secure a date on the main and highly penetrated In Demand service-make it difficult to get desired dates.

As a result, niche events are often moved to secondary channels, where penetration levels are far below those of In Demand's primary channel.

But with operators rolling out at least eight digital-PPV services, niche-event executives believe they can now maximize revenue without having to find a slot on the first channel.

"Now if that [secondary] channel is in as many homes as the first channel, then it doesn't make much difference," Innovative Sports Marketing co-partner Doug Jacobs said.

"The viewer doesn't know if it's the first or the last channel, and we'll generate the same amount of revenue," added Jacobs, whose company distributes many internationally based sports events such as European soccer tournaments.

Along with an increase in PPV channels, the expansion of broadband services such as high-speed Internet access will also provide event distributors with the opportunity to showcase their programming via the Internet.

Spring Communications president John Rubey said the emerging broadband space will inevitably provide more opportunities for niche services to reach their audience and maximize revenues.

Rubey-who was one of the first event providers to offer concerts and other event programming on both PPV and the Internet-believes the combination of video-on-demand and broadband opportunities can maximize an event's performance.

"When you have 35 channels of digital-PPV services, you want to have as much programming out there as possible. The more choices you have, the better it is for everybody," Rubey said. "We have more options and more ways to reach the consumer directly with the Internet, and particularly with convergence."

One concern niche-event executives have about the emerging technologies is how competition among the various distribution platforms will affect future marketing and distribution opportunities.

With cable, direct-broadcast satellite services and Internet companies all vying for the consumer's dollar, vendors may seek exclusive deals that may hurt marketing and distribution opportunities for small events.

"The question is whether different platforms will adapt exclusive strategies," Rubey said. "In the past, the different technologies such as cable, radio and the Internet have supported each other and combined resources to promote an event. If you have to give up one because the other is asking for exclusivity, it limits the promotional opportunities a event provider has."

Such constraints could have an adverse effect on the development of events in the future. "The artist and the music label are far more interested in a wider and broader promotional strategy than a constrained strategy," Rubey said.

Nevertheless, executives believe events will inevitably drive digital-penetration levels.

"A movie alone isn't enough incentive to switch out your box. But if you can get an event that you're passionate about, you'll go out and get that digital box," Rubey said. "I think in a VOD and broadband world, events will truly distinguish the PPV industry."