Watch when you want to
By Mike Duffy
Free Press TV Writer
All power to the people — the television-viewing people.
Comcast has about 1 million subscribers in the Detroit area. It is also No. 1 nationally, with 21.5 million U.S. subscribers. Its 3-year-old On Demand catalog has more than 3,800 programs, movies, music videos, sports broadcasts, children’s shows and episodes of favorite TV series, much of it offered at no extra charge.
Comcast’s free On Demand programming includes the NFL Network On Demand’s NFL Replay package that features 10-15 minute highlights of every NFL game the day after it’s played. Whether it’s sports, Japanese anime, parenting tips on a channel called Alpha Mom or old Three Stooges shorts, On Demand has it.
"And there’s a lot of historical content," adds Thompson. "Before the next season of ‘The Sopranos’ starts, we will have every episode of the series available for viewing."
Though the popularity of On Demand programming is growing — Comcast customers nationally have watched more than 1 billion On Demand programs so far in 2005, up from a total of 567 million in 2004 — there are still some significant obstacles to overcome.
"The biggest problem is customer education," says Jerome Espy, director of communications for Comcast in southeast Michigan. "Though more than 90% of the On Demand programming is free, a lot of people are apprehensive. It’s almost like they think, ‘If I use it, I’ll be charged for it.’ "
"The technology is just 2 or 3 years old. We’re really only in the second inning of this ballgame," explains Thompson. "One priority is making it simpler to search for and find what you want to view."
Like any modern technology, it’s fabulous when it works. And frustrating when it doesn’t. When you promise instant gratification, you better deliver.
I did the remote control stroll through On Demand for one afternoon. Even with the digital hiccups and delays, I was having a pretty grand time, stopping for some old "Monty Python," checking out a few moments of an A&E "Biography" about Ben Stiller and looking at vintage "Beavis and Butt-head" and "Barney Miller" episodes before laughing along with Larry David.
Curbing my enthusiasm for On Demand? Hardly.
If your idea of fun television involves more choices, more freebies, offbeat eye candy and watching favorite shows whenever you want to, then On Demand is a land of expanding entertainment opportunities. And that’s a cool thing.