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Fox, Others Join Growing On-Demand Club

9 Jan, 2006 By: Erik Gruenwedel

Fox Entertainment Group, beginning in March, said it would offer episodes of FX's “The Shield,” “Rescue Me” and “30 Days,” among others, to DirecTV subscribers for $2.99 up to 48 hours before their initial TV broadcasts.

Episodes of Fox Broadcasting Company's “24” and “Prison Break” would be available for 99 cents six to seven days following their TV broadcasts.

Fox, like DirecTV a subsidiary of News Corp., is the latest company to join the burgeoning trend among content providers repurposing programming for on-demand distribution on the Internet and portable media devices.

“We're committed to finding new ways to bring our content to consumers and we think this deal is a huge step forward in giving them greater choice and control over their entertainment experience,” said Peter Chernin, president and COO of News Corp.

Google Inc. last week announced it would offer downloads of about 300 classic CBS Corp. programs, including “I Love Lucy,” “The Brady Bunch” and “Star Trek” (“Deep Space 9” and “Voyager”) for $1.99 per episode. CBS reportedly plans to offer Google rental streams of current “CSI” episodes and other programs the day after their network airing for the same price.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based Internet search behemoth has a similar distribution deal with the National Basketball Association.

Separately, iWatchNow.com, a nascent Santa Monica, Calif.-based video-on-demand Web service, announced Monday it had secured the digital distribution rights to more than 3,000 hours of classic TV and offbeat movies. For a one-time $3.99 download fee, users can have streaming access to six commercial-free episodes, and 99 cents for episodes thereafter.

TV programs, which include “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Bonanza,” “Dragnet,” “Dick Tracy,” Groucho Marx's “You Bet Your Life,” “The Jack Benny Show” and “The Lone Ranger,” also can be viewed on Apple Computer's video iPod.

Fox executives say pre-air FX programs could include additional scenes and material not found in the network broadcast but typically available on the DVD release.

Whether bonus material laden on-demand content negatively impacts Fox's future TV DVD business is unclear, according to Ralph Tribbey, editor of The DVD Release Report.

“They're really two different markets: on-demand and packaged goods,” said Tribbey. “Fox may be shooting itself in the foot to try to develop an alternative revenue stream. But it is a little early to tell whether that will be an issue.”

Tribbey said he doubts on-demand has entered mass-market appeal yet and instead is largely coveted by early adopters and technophiles.

The [on-demand] programming has to be a lot more compelling to generate a following,” Tribbey said. “And mass-market television has a tendency to dumb things down to build an audience. You would be hard pressed to find TV programming since 2002 with any commercial value that are not already on DVD.”

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