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Sapan Says Exclusive VOD is Key for Cable

Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. CEO Joshua Sapan may have coined a new acronym — EVOD, or exclusive video-on-demand — at last week's Kagan VOD Summit when describing the route his company's Mag Rack venture is pursuing.

Mag Rack, Rainbow's array of on-demand video magazines introduced on parent Cablevision Systems Corp.'s Long Island, N.Y., digital interactive tier last fall, should be the model for the kind of product the cable industry channels out to its customers through VOD, Sapan said.

"Cable should build exclusive VOD franchises that leverage what's best in cable," he said during a keynote address last Wednesday. "Movies are not all the industry should offer."

Last week, Cablevision extended the franchise to Morris County, N.J., where it serves about 148,000 customers.

But a group of new on-demand companies on a subsequent Kagan panel illustrated why Rainbow won't be traveling that path alone.

Chaos Media Ventures is looking to carve some business from original on-demand content by offering a variety of special interest lifestyle programming with interactive elements.

Much in the manner of "choose your own adventure" books, viewers can use their remotes to select what direction each Chaos program will go, or what topics will be addressed, making the shows "tailored to personal needs," explained CEO C.J. Cornell at the Kagan event.

Chaos's programming is now available to more than 250,000 digital cable customers around the country.

Another explorer in the cable VOD field is VastVideo Inc., a provider of long and short-form content for several Internet destinations and such streaming players as Real Networks. The company has produced or acquired more than 18,000 programs. VastVideo's archives also house more than 10,000 one- to three-minute segments

VastVideo president and chief operating officer Laurie Giddins said discussions are underway with a number of cable operators and VOD distributors to make the product available to cable subscribers. "I'm looking forward to the day when, like the Internet, virtual on-demand channels are created by the consumer," she said.

In order to accelerate that timeframe, original content suppliers should develop brand identities forged around a subscription VOD model, BBC America online vice president Parule Basu-Barua said. She is upset about the emergence of free VOD strategies.

"We must insure we have valuable product to deliver to the consumer, and the consumers value it too," she said.

BBC America is developing a VOD spin-off where episodes of selected series run on-demand several months ahead of their network airings.

Federal Hill Communications said it also is making headway with a number of operators on documentary, lifestyle and kids video content.

On a flat-fee basis, operators get the original shows they want and use them in whatever VOD format they deem appropriate.

"We're trying to make it easy for them and us to experiment in VOD," Federal Hill president Bethany Gorfine said. "Cable guys are the new programming directors and VOD is the new independent TV station."