Pay-per-view, the cable industry's answer to home videocassettes, took another step forward Monday. Viewer's Choice, a service offered by Showtime/The Movie Channel, announced that it will soon begin feeding via satellite a second channel of pay-per-view movies to cable system operators, who will in turn offer them to cable homes for about $4 to $5 for a single viewing.
Viewer's Choice Channel 2 will be launched as early as next month, and no later than June, Scott Kurnit, executive vice president in charge of pay-per-view for Showtime, said Monday. Viewer's Choice will not be available in Southern California for the time being, Kurnit said.
The idea behind pay-per-view is that movie fans who currently run down to their local video store to rent cassettes would be willing to spend a few dollars more for the convenience of having the films piped into their home.
Unlike subscription-based pay-cable channels, the viewer pays each a time a film is watched, rather than by the month, but a newer selection of films is available. Most major film studios allow channels such as Viewer's Choice to market their product at about the same time the videocassette of the film becomes available, typically months before it will be seen on such monthly services as Showtime or Home Box Office.
Availability of a second satellite-fed channel allows Viewer's Choice to "give greater exposure to the top titles," Kurnit said. "Unlike a video store, the broadcast environment needs lots of exposure."
Viewer's Choice Channel 1, which Showtime put on satellite in November, currently repeats a single movie title throughout a given week, a ploy that the service found increased viewing of "Flashdance" by 40% when it was offered two years ago. Viewer's Choice Channel 2--which is available in some areas by cassettes delivered to cable operators--will repeat some of those titles and will offer another 30 or so per year, Kurnit said.
Viewer's Choice is competing in the pay-per-view market with Request channel and The People's Choice. One stumbling block they all face is that pay-per-view only works where cable systems are addressable--that is, the system operator can send a signal to a specific home with the flick of a switch.
Viewer's Choice has contracts signed that make it available to a potential 800,000 addressable subscribers, Kurnit said. There are about 40 million cable homes in the United States, he said, of which about 7 million are addressable and 2 1/2 million are offered pay-per-view.
Showtime and The Movie Channel, which it owns, have a combined total of 8.5 million subscribers, he said.