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TWC Dips Into Online Downloads

The two biggest U.S. cable operators have decided that if people are going to download video entertainment over the Internet a la carte, they should be in the game.

Time Warner Cable is getting ready to launch the Road Runner Video Store, either later this month or in early October, chief strategy officer Peter Stern said in an interview last week.

The site will use the same back-end infrastructure and offer the same selection of titles for rent or purchase — more than 3,000 TV shows and movies — as Comcast's Fancast Store, which debuted earlier this month (see “Comcast Sells Net Videos,” Sept. 8, 2008, page 20).

Both of the MSOs' video-download services were developed by Comcast subsidiary thePlatform, which provides video-management services to cable operators, wireless carriers and Internet TV sites.

For Time Warner Cable, the strategy is part of “giving customers control in ways that are simple and easy,” Stern said.

He pointed out that most consumers watch long-form video content on PCs because they can't get it on their TV. “They're using the PC to catch up,” Stern said. “We want viewers to be able to watch a television show any point in its lifetime.”

Bruce Leichtman, president of Leichtman Research Group, said he sees the Road Runner Video Store as a tactical move to provide an option for customers who might otherwise turn to Apple's iTunes Store, or similar services.

“Given that they're the No. 4 broadband provider in America, why not offer video downloads?” he said. “They could say, 'We can sit on the sidelines and watch everybody else play.' Or they could join them.”

Videos available through the Road Runner Video Store will include more than 1,600 movies and 1,500 TV episodes. As with the Fancast Store, pricing will starts at $3.99 for 24-hour movie rentals; $9.99 for digital movie purchases; and $1.99 for individual TV shows — in line with download services like iTunes. The service uses Microsoft's digital rights management system.

Movie titles range from recent releases like Sony Pictures Entertainment's 21 and Columbia Pictures' The Other Boleyn Girl to classics like A Clockwork Orange and A Streetcar Named Desire. TV shows include Fox's Family Guy and TNT's The Closer.

Time Warner Cable already offers Road Runner Music, a $9.95-per-month service with access to 3 million songs playable on a PC and portable music devices compatible with Microsoft DRM. That service is provided by New York-based MediaNet Digital.