All this VOD business making some heads spin

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In recent weeks, major TV broadcasters and cable networks have announced a sudden storm of video-on-demand and online initiatives that don't conform in any way to TV's traditional business models. Both NBC and CBS are offering top prime-time programs to VOD services that allow viewers to watch when they want, not when the network sets the appointments. They are also posting more TV news content online, while ABC is making its whole nightly news show available on the Web. TiVo said it plans to let subscribers transfer recorded programs to portable players like iPods and Sony's PSP.

With so much activity, it's not clear what's going on. Respondents to an Advertising Age poll expressed confusion about the new distribution plans, platforms, schemes and copycats.

"All of this smacks of Chicken Little desperation," said John Maher, senior VP-director of planning, U.S. International Media. "Everybody seems afraid of being left out of the ongoing changes."

That may be so, but the consumer experience is improving even amid hurdy-gurdy changes, said Rob Floyd, president, Circle F Media. "No one understands how this will turn out and everyone is placing bets," he said. "It's all very exciting and very disruptive but it can let me watch my content (and more of it) on my own schedule. I don't mind commercials if I can select ones meaningful to me and if watching them gives me my content for free. I would also think that I am more valuable to advertisers if I am interested in seeing their specific messages."

In a dissent, Paul Benjou, director-client services at Mediaplex, said where some see chaos, others see ordered evolution. "The shift of channel distribution for TV content is nothing new. It started decades ago with the birth of cable TV and the resistance by the major networks to acknowledge or embrace it. Today we are witnessing yet a stronger shift, fueled by the Internet, addressable set-top box and mobile technologies, coupled with the visionary talents of some of the best and brightest minds today. If this is confusion, I cannot wait to see what's around the corner."

Bob Davidson of Davidson Communications isn't confused, either: "Vaudeville feared movies. Movie theaters were scared what TV would do. Now, TV is what you want, when you want it. Consumers are getting the message loud and clear. It is this industry's task to figure out the shortest distance between two points. It can and will be done."

What you say: 59% of respondents to Advertising Age's online poll believe all the sudden, overlapping and divergent changes affecting digital TV distribution are confusing. Another 41% disagreed, many arguing that we are witnessing evolution at work, including both innovations that will fail and innovations that will influence everything.

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