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Comcast stretches VOD rentals to two days

Lee Stewart
06-03-2009, 05:41 AM
What studios will offer for an extended period will vary

By Jennifer Netherby -- Video Business, 6/2/2009
JUNE 2 | DIGITAL: The battle for the rental market is about to get even more competitive.

Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, Lionsgate and Summit Entertainment will begin offering films on demand through Comcast foran extended two-day viewing period at no extra charge this summer, the cable company announced Tuesday. Until now, consumers who purchased films on VOD through cable have had to watch them within 24 hours before they time out.

What studios will offer for an extended period will vary greatly. Warner is calling the move a test, while Disney plans to permanently extend the viewing period for its releases to 48 hours.

Warner will offer the extended 48-hour viewing period for all of its high definition June VOD releases on Comcast, including Tuesday release He’s Just Not That Into You and upcoming releases Gran Torino, The Cell 2, Friday the 13th and Inkheart. Those releases all debut on VOD simultaneous with their DVD release.

Warner will also offer those releases with the extended viewing period through Verizon, a spokesman said. However, standard definition VOD rentals of Warner films and download rentals through iTunes, Amazon Video on Demand and other cable and Internet services will continue to be viewable for 24 hours.

A Warner spokesman said the extended viewing period is being offered as a test for June releases, but it could continue beyond that.

Lionsgate will extend the viewing period to 48 hours for its June VOD releases of My Bloody Valentine, Razortooth, New in Town, Octane and Kaidan. The studio wouldn’t comment on whether the extended viewing period was being added as a test or would be permanent.

Comcast will also offer My Bloody Valentine as a high definition download and in 3D, giving it an edge over DVD and Blu-ray. To watch in 3D, viewers will have to pick up special glasses at Comcast service centers. This is Comcast’s second 3D film – last fall it offered Hannah Montana in 3D.

Unlike Warner, Lionsgate hasn’t yet released any films day and date on VOD and DVD, though it has shortened the window to two weeks for many of its releases.

Disney, which also has kept a window between DVD and VOD releases, will permanently extend the viewing period to 48 hours for all of its films offered on demand through Comcast, beginning with July releases Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience, Confessions of a Shopaholic, Bolt and Doubt, a spokeswoman said.

Summit will also offer films for a 48-hour viewing period in July, Comcast announced.

Comcast VP of video content Diana Kerekes said the goal of extending the viewing period is part of the company’s push to make on demand viewing a better experience for its customers. At the same time, she said, the company is working make studios comfortable offering their films earlier and for longer periods.

“We would absolutely love every single title day and date, offered as long as we possibly can,” Kerekes said.

Warner has been releasing most of its films day and date on VOD and DVD for the last couple years. In the last six months, 20th Century Fox, NBC Universal and MGM have also begun experimenting with day and date releases.

Comcast’s Kerekes said more than half of films on VOD during the first quarter got a day and date release, which the company has pushed for. She said simultaneous releases heighten awareness for films on VOD, though she declined to comment on whether it has boosted sales for Comcast.

The March day and date release of Summit’s Twilight was the top opening film on VOD through Comcast, Kerekes said. To capitalize on Twilight’s rabid teenage fan base, Comcast offered the film starting at 12:01 a.m. on its day of release.

Warner execs have said in the past that simultaneous releases boost VOD sales without hurting DVD sales, though it can dent DVD rentals.

Kerekes said it’s too early to say what percentage of films in the second quarter will debut day and date.

So far this quarter, Warner, Summit and Fox are the only studios with films that have had a day and date release. 20th Century Fox will release two films day and date on June 30 – 12 Rounds and Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun Li – though both will only be available for a 24-hour viewing period after purchase.