by Peter M. Gordon
Comcast announced in late June that they will launch a version of their VOD channel, Fearnet, as a linear, ad-supported cable network. Fearnet’s VOD service is available in 28 million homes, and the linear, ad supported channel will expand its reach. Presumably, the ads and license fees will bring in more money, since the VOD service is available free to digital subscribers. This is a significant development. When Comcast launched Fearnet on Halloween 2006 they hailed the VOD-only channel as a new paradigm in cable service. The days of the linear network were numbered, since consumers wanted to consume their video on demand. Fearnet would be the first in a series of new VOD networks.
A funny thing happened on the way to this future. Linear cable networks continued to launch — news channels, local sports channels, foreign language channels, HD versions of current channels. There are groups looking for funding for several more. Instead of fading away, networks with limited distribution continued to expand. Satellite services like Direct TV and DISH made more networks available to homes and cable systems competed by adding more channels and creating their own proprietary channels. The VOD interfaces that cable networks put in homes turned out to require several clicks to find specific shows. Most consumers didn’t want to work that hard. It was so much easier just to see what was currently on your favorite channels than hunt for specific VOD programs.
Comcast further demonstrated the importance of networks and content last year when they bought NBC for its popular cable channels like USA, and the most old-fashioned dinosaur of them all– a broadcast network. Although an increasing number of people time shift their viewing of shows, they still rely upon networks to schedule programs at specific times so they can record them.
What does this mean for your program idea? It means that cable networks in the U.S. and around the world will be a viable market for the foreseeable future. Selling a program to a cable channel remains a good way to make money and increase your program’s visibility. That doesn’t mean you have to wait for a network to buy your show before you create some video for your web site. It does mean that you should consider a network sale as a viable part of your business plan. And if you’re dreaming of creating a new linear network don’t give up hope. It looks like they will be around for awhile.
Peter M. Gordon is a writer, public speaker, and media consultant in Orlando, FL.