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Six Questions: Robert G. Benya, President and CEO of In Demand

19 Aug, 2013 By: Chris Tribbey

Robert G. Benya

If you’re a cable TV subscriber, you’ve heard of In Demand. A joint venture owned by cable operators Comcast, Cox Communications, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, In Demand is one of the world’s largest suppliers of PPV, subscription VOD and free VOD content, with agreements to deliver content from every major studio, and every major American sport, minus the NFL.

It’s not enough that In Demand offers roughly 150,000 hours of programming  along with live sports and 3D content, says company president and CEO Robert Benya, a long-time cable industry veteran. Expansion into more digital platforms, delivery of 4K content and maintaining an international presence are all on his to-do list for In Demand.

Benya took the time to chat with Home Media Magazine about the windowing of Hollywood films, the need for cable operators and studios to work together, and the future of VOD.

• What type of demand is In Demand seeing for PPV and subscription VOD content, and what makes In Demand unique versus other PPV and subscription VOD outlets?

Benya: We’re at a point now where we’re distributing 150,000 hours of programming, whether it’s live PPV, VOD, subscription VOD or linear TV, through our infrastructure. We have added a substantial number of programming suppliers, close to 160, including close to 60 indie film suppliers we’re working with. We’re also working with a number of international providers, offering a lot of foreign films. The VOD offering has really gotten very broad.

On the PPV side, one of the things we do that a lot of people don’t really know about is that we distribute all of the out-of-market, regional sports packages: NBA, NHL, MLB and MLS soccer. That’s a substantial offering we’ve put together. We’re talking literally thousands and thousands of live games we’re putting out over the course of a year. And on the ring sports side we have Ultimate Fighting Championship mixed martial arts, wrestling and boxing, which keep us busy with almost 30 events per year, live, and some of them are very, very large events.

• Movies aren’t In Demand’s only offering. What gains has the company made when it comes to providing unique sports, episodic TV and other content?

Benya: The platform for us keeps getting deeper and broader — deeper in terms of what we’ve done historically, and broader in terms of branching out into new areas. One of the new things we’ve done is we made a deal [in mid 2012] where we’re distributing the Pac-12 [college sports content], with a national feed. And we’re also involved with a lot of special events. A big one coming up is comedian Lewis Black doing a stand-up event out of the Borgata hotel in Atlantic City (Aug. 23 to 24), where for the first time we’ll be offering the program not only on live PPV via a set-top box, but also via an online simulcast. We’re overseeing the entire offering, working with a number of partners in an integrated way.

For episodic TV, there’s a demand for it. What we’re doing that may not be apparent is we’re involved in building and managing online stores for a few of our affiliates, where we acquire the content, do all the content prep, encoding and formatting for all the different devices, whether it’s online, mobile, tablet, and we then distribute it to their branded company websites. We’ve been doing a lot of TV shows through that platform, and I think you’ll see episodic TV shows coming to VOD through the set-top box in the near future, given the growing popularity of on-demand TV shows.

Cable operators are offering [episodic TV shows] as free VOD, as part of certain rights with their affiliation agreements. Where we fit in — with cable operators getting “X” number of TV episodes — is going back and licensing the catalog, and making that available, online right now, and some number of shows via VOD. Ultimately we’ll be offering TV content not just for rent, but also for sale as electronic sellthrough.

Something else that isn’t obvious with us is that we provide a business-to-business service to a massively growing array of cable networks. We’re now distributing free on-demand content to more than 50 networks. When you’re a subscriber and you visit various on-demand menus, In Demand is in the middle, distributing the content between the programmers and the cable operators. That’s been a big source of growth for us.

• What are the challenges with providing In Demand content in high-def and 3D?

Benya: We’ve been doing HD for a long time now, and I consider our team members to be experts in delivering it. In fact, virtually every product we offer is [available] in both standard-definition and high-def. What we’re working on now is to deliver it more efficiently, help the operators save bandwidth and storage costs. We’ve also been doing 3D for nearly four years now. We launched a linear and free VOD version of The Masters three years ago. We’ve worked with the studios on pulling together a 3D catalog of Hollywood films. The consumption of HD VOD content has really gone up, and we’re seeing certain partners approach 50% of their total buy being in high-def.

• Is In Demand already thinking about 4K content and how to deliver it?

Benya: We think it’s inevitable, and we’re waiting for the content suppliers and affiliates to come to us and work through it. Right now the focus has been on high-def and delivering it better. At some point 4K will come down the pipe.

We anticipate that as the state of the art moves, we’re going to move with it. One of the things this company has done great over the last 28 years is constantly innovating. On the technical side it went from very, very basic PPV, to VOD, to high-def, to 3D, to new subscription VOD formats, to the creation of new SVOD products. Today we work with so many different parties, from content suppliers to cable affiliates. What we try to do is add value and add scale, do what others can’t do and do it more efficiently. You have [both] cable operators and studios contributing to a national campaign budget. We’re all on the same team, and our job is to maximize revenue in the PPV and VOD space.

• Outside of American cable, what inroads is In Demand making via worldwide digital outlets and international markets?

Benya: In the digital space we’ve been working on online storefronts, and we will be doing more in that area. We’re going to become a lot more aggressive in the online space, put up more storefronts, partner with big portals, start new marketing relationships, and distribute our online content to more [outlets]. The online space will see a lot more activity for [new-release] features. We want to make sure we’re up there at the top in terms of the best functionality.

Another area that we’re moving into is international. We just announced a deal with [Beijing-based media company Seven Stars Media Limited] where we’re fueling an array of first-of-their-kind cable networks in China. It’s exciting, almost like déjà vu with how it started here in America.

Cable operators are stepping up their efforts in the commercial services space, offering high-speed data and voice services to small-, medium- and large-sized businesses and their footprints. We think that there’s an opportunity to efficiently aggregate video content and distribute it, similarly to what we do with residential products. We think there’s an opportunity to aggregate video for different types of businesses in the industry, more cost-effective options for online education, corporate training and so on. 

We’re really looking at the cloud to efficiently distribute [content] over the cloud infrastructure. Principally we’ve been in the video business, but we think there are other applications where we can leverage our infrastructure to deliver [content] efficiently and effectively for our content suppliers, as well as our affiliates.

• Studios are becoming more aggressive with their digital marketing for titles both big and small. Where does In Demand stand in regard to early digital releases for titles, both major and minor?

Benya: The pre-theatrical and theatrical day-and-date originally started with indie suppliers … but now it’s rapidly expanding with the major studios. We’ve distributed more than 100 of these early windowed titles, starting in early 2012, and we’re seeing significant buy rates. We’re very focused on this category, focused to the standpoint of marketing support so we can showcase [these titles]. 

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