Rainbow Expands VOD Vision

Rainbow Programming made a name for itself a few years ago when it launched cable’s first original VOD service, Mag Rack. Now, it’s putting increased onus on video on demand with new VOD plans for three programming brands. Both AMC and WE: Women’s Entertainment will launch VOD services later this year, and Independent Film Channel is tweaking its IFC On Demand, with plans of a nationwide rollout this summer. That’s in addition to an on-demand version of the music channel Fuse, which is already operating.

To date, IFC — and its cousin, World Picks On Demand — has only been available on Cablevision Systems Corp. systems. But Rainbow CEO Josh Sapan said the company plans a national rollout of IFC On Demand, as well as a 20-to-25-hour-per-month WE On Demand service later this year.

The services will provide new and original content to the VOD platform, Sapan said, in keeping with Rainbow’s “original” mantra for VOD. IFC On Demand, for instance, plans to show “rushes” during production filming of IFC films. And the WE service will feature hosted segments that will showcase not only network, but other women’s fare on the VOD platform, no matter the programming outlet.

“With IFC, you won’t just see great movies and documentaries,” Sapan said. “You’ll see rushes and dailies of movies IFC is making. You get to watch the construction. We think it will make on demand much more unique and richer.”

Sapan said the directors IFC has approached so far have all agreed to the showing of dailies. It can serve to raise interest in the film, he said, before it’s released in theaters. “We have the benefit of working with people whose projects are very, very close to their heart,” he said.

With WE On Demand, “we will have hosted 'VO Divas,’” who will introduce WE programming segments and inform people what’s on other VOD programming services. “We’re really going to try to energize the on-demand platform in aggregate,” he said.

The network benefits, he said, because “WE becomes a center guide and authority for what’s on demand.”

WE’s VOD service will include specials, series (including McLeod’s Daughters), local stories and movies across its 20 hours or so of content, Sapan said.

Sapan said internal work continues of the AMC On Demand service. “It will be a later launch,” he said. With movie-based VOD services, the challenge can be adding something new, he said. “Creating distinctiveness will be a little harder,” he said. “We want to do something arresting, almost a radical product enhancement. We’ll call it a companion product.”

The expansion of Rainbow’s on-demand vision follows the natural growth of the VOD platform, Sapan said.

When Mag Rack launched three years ago, VOD was an untested platform. And although business models remain somewhat elusive, it has become mainstream on many digital homes. Mag Rack is now in 25% of all VOD homes, Sapan said, with launches at Charter Communications Inc., Adelphia Communications Corp., Insight Communications Co., Mediacom Communications and Cablevision.

Rainbow recently added sportskool, which features professional athletes and others demonstrating various sports skills, to its Mag Rack lineup. Such programming is perfect for VOD, Sapan said, because it allows viewers to stop the program, try the skills at home, then return to the program. “That points to the technology uniqueness of VOD,” Sapan said.

As far VOD’s evolution, Sapan said “VOD is still a blur for many. People still don’t know they can get it. They don’t know what it is. It’s still cloudy for people.”

With digital video recorders gaining inroads, Sapan said, “the VOD platform should not simply be a predetermined hard drive. We want to add an experience that is unique,” with programming and content built for the platform.