The list of cable networks participating in Comcast's upcoming technical trial of On Demand Online continues to grow. This afternoon HBO and Cinemax announced that initially they will provide 750 hours a month of programming, which will expand over time.
Full length episodes of True Blood, Hung, Entourage, etc, along with recent movies such as Transformers, The Dark Knight, Atonement and classics like Jurassic Park, Speed and Rosemary's Baby will all be available. Some programs will be available in HD and immediately after they're shown on the linear networks.
HBO/Cinemax follows last week's announcement that Starz is on board with the trial, which itself followed the launch announcement that Time Warner networks TNT and TBS were participating. The list will no doubt grow further in the coming weeks.
I've been bullish on Comcast's On Demand Online initiative from the outset, and HBO/Cinemax's perfectly illustrates the power of the model. As the most popular premium TV network, HBO would confer a lot of additional value to its subscribers by making its programs conveniently available online. But to date the only real option for doing so has been to sell them on a per program download basis through outlets like iTunes. The problem is that HBO subscribers end up paying twice for the same content.
On Demand Online gives HBO a mechanism, finally, to give its subscribers online access without additional fees. This is accomplished through Comcast's "authentication," which queries its database to enable online viewing privileges. The upcoming technical trial is intended to prove that the authentication process actually works. It must, as the stakes are quite high when premium networks like HBO are in the mix. The last thing they want is to have unauthorized broadband users watching their coveted shows instead of subscribing to the monthly service.
All of the details of On Demand Online are not yet understood, but I continue to believe that if it's executed properly, it will be a game-changer for the cable and broadband industries.