For years, cable operators have wrangled with broadcasters to secure video-on-demand (VOD) distribution rights for popular prime-time television shows. Through a deal this week with CBS, Comcast is the first MSO to clear the impasse. The network has agreed to make four popular CBS shows -- "CSI," "Survivor," "NCIS," and "Amazing Race" -- available to Comcast customers via VOD for 99 cents per episode. VOD viewers will be able to watch the shows after they've aired and fast-forward commercials, but not 'quick-skip' ads as PVRs allow. The deal only covers Comcast markets served by CBS O&O (owned and operated) television stations. Negotiating VOD distribution with independent CBS affiliates will be, to put it politely, challenging.
"I think the floodgates have opened," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts told the Wall Street Journal. 'Floodgates' is a bit much. Perhaps a 'trickle from the faucet' is more accurate as the big-three broadcast networks test the on-demand waters.
NBC inked a similar deal with DirecTV this week to offer programs for 99 cents to subscribers of the satellite service's PVR-based VOD offering, a tiny slice of its customer base. The moves by CBS and NBC follow on the heels of ABC's deal last month to offer select program downloads via Apple's iTunes service for video-enabled iPods. Within first 20 days of launching video, Apple clocked over 1 million downloads for its full line-up of video content. And with seven weeks left in 2005, Comcast has already delivered over 1 billion VOD streams to subscribers this year.