Comcast Testing On-Demand Movies Day And Date With DVD

In late November Comcast began offering on-demand movie titles from every major studio day and date with the films' DVD debut in its Pittsburgh and Denver markets for $4 per viewing. On-demand video availability for major movies has typically lagged 30-45 days behind the DVD release, creating an exclusive window for DVD sales and rentals, which has certainly not helped on-demand's popularity. If this practice extends beyond these markets and to other cable and satellite operators it seems likely that DVD sales will continue to erode.

Among the new release titles that have been available in the test markets are the big holiday releases of Superman Returns and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest. A Video Business article quoted a statement from Blockbuster video that said that the studios make more money selling DVDs at retail than any existing PPV model, and that the studios will be careful in offering any "new, less profitable service that would be cannibalistic to the rental and retail channel."

Of course, while the studios certainly make less in sheer dollar amounts selling a $4 PPV through a cable/satellite provider than a $15-$20 DVD through a traditional retailer, the PPV model also involves less up front costs for studios in disc replication and packaging. This must hold some considerable appeal as the emerging markets for movie downloads are receiving so much attention.

And what does this mean to the emerging next-gen high-def disc formats, Blu-ray and HD DVD? At the very least, along with the various emerging download models, it represents anther potential alternative. Whichever format eventually proves victorious, it's unlikely that we'll ever see a disc-based format as monolithic and ubiquitous as DVD has been for the last decade. There are simply too many increasingly viable alternatives to physical media springing up for that to be the case.

One or both of these formats are very likely to establish a niche among the small percentage of performance oriented consumers, but it's entirely possible that Blu-ray and HD DVD are battling it out to become the next Laserdisc and not the next DVD.