Lifetime on Demand

Aug 21, 2006  •  Post A Comment

After watching the video-on-demand market evolve from the sidelines for the last five years, Lifetime plans to launch its first VOD programming service with Comcast starting this week.

The VOD service will be the first in a series of new media ventures for the network this year. Lifetime intends to strike deals for online delivery of select shows with partners or on its own Web sites in the fourth quarter.

Lifetime’s VOD entrance is noteworthy for several reasons.

Though Lifetime is one of the last major cable networks to offer VOD, its VOD programming mix is the kind of fare pundits and ad experts say the medium needs-recent episodes of hit shows, popular library titles and exclusive material.

What’s more, Lifetime has already sold out advertising in its VOD programming lineup, with a single 15- or 30-second spot earmarked to run in front of most of the shows and longer commercials running at the end of the programs. Kraft Foods is one of the major advertisers on Lifetime VOD.

Louise Henry Bryson, president of distribution and affiliate business development for Lifetime Entertainment Services, acknowledged that Lifetime took its time with VOD.

“We have been working on the strategy and waiting for the kinds of products that really work,” she said.

The patience may have paid off because other cable networks have already paved the path toward consumer and advertiser acceptance of VOD.

Lifetime is entering VOD during a phase in which business models have crystallized. Advertising has emerged as the financial underpinning for basic cable network VOD, and the ad community is now receptive to VOD.

In addition, consumer usage of VOD is rising. VOD is now in 25 million digital cable homes, and 60 percent of digital cable subscribers have used VOD, up from 25 percent two years ago, according to Leichtman Research Group. However, the research firm estimates that overall viewing of VOD is still small since less than 4 percent of TV viewing comes from recorded DVR programs and VOD content. Comcast reaches about 10 million customers with its VOD service.

Still, usage is rising among women and that’s important to Lifetime, which targets the female demographics. A CTAM study from late last year found that 24 percent of women are watching more VOD than they did six months ago.

Ms. Bryson said the VOD timing also fits with Lifetime’s programming push into more original series and new genres under Susanne Daniels, president of entertainment for the network.

“It’s fine if we are criticized [for taking our time]. We really had to coincide with our new product development,” Ms. Bryson said. “Nobody wants to see a lot of library content.”

Lucy Goldenhersh, VP of distribution of new technologies for the network, said Lifetime will use VOD to hook new viewers on Lifetime’s programming by featuring current episodes of hit shows. “The idea is not to replicate linear TV, but to enhance it,” she said.

In Talks With iTunes

VOD is also one of the first new media forays for the network. While Lifetime has been offering on broadband behind-the-scenes clips and video diaries to complement existing shows, the network has not yet dabbled in online delivery of TV shows.

However, Lifetime is in talks with iTunes, said Dan Suratt, executive VP of digital media and business development.

“You will see us start with select shows in the fourth quarter,” he said, speaking broadly about online delivery of shows.

The network is continuing to develop more original broadband content, such as original video bits created exclusively for LMN.tv related to the Lifetime movie “Inspector Mom,” slated for a November premiere.

Lifetime is well positioned as a VOD service, said Paul Rule, president of VOD research firm Marquest Research. Mr. Rule’s company researched consumer interest in 80 ad-supported cable networks as potential sources for on-demand programming earlier this year.

His study found that Lifetime Movie Network ranked seventh among women ages 18-plus, and Lifetime ranked 11th among that group.

“My impression of Lifetime has been that they study the viability of a new programming venture carefully before making a move. … This has led to their having many successes and few disappointments,” Mr. Rule said.

Lifetime’s VOD offering will not include Lifetime Movie Network content at launch, but that will be added over time.