Comcast and Disney’s On-Demand Deal

It was a long time coming, but I believe that the deal signed by Comcast(Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Disney(NYSE: DIS) Tuesday will be of major importance for both companies. Comcast subscribers will now be able to access Disney and ABC television programs and films on the operator's cable video-on-demand service.

The multibillion-dollar pact, which reportedly had been in negotiation for three years, will include films from Walt Disney Pictures, Miramax Films, and Touchstone Pictures. Comcast will charge $3.99 for first-run films and $2.99 for older pictures. Some of the films apparently will be available only after a 15-day window following their release in DVD form. Comcast will also receive the right to use Disney promotional video on, the operator's newly upgraded website.

Television programs covered under the agreement will include Lost, Desperate Housewives, and Nightline, plus content from Disney's ESPN, Toon Disney, and SoapNet channels, among others. Furthermore, for $1.23 billion, Comcast will acquire Disney's 39.5% of the E! Entertainment channel, making Comcast the network's sole owner. And Comcast will launch a Spanish-language sports network to be called ESPN Deportes.

With the deal, Disney will obtain yet another, longer-lasting outlet for its film and television content, thereby enhancing and lengthening the income stream from that content. Comcast may make out even better. The agreement will provide it with a host of new content for its video-on-demand offering. Frankly, I think that this is a major step forward for the nation's largest cable operator.

Video on demand, which allows subscribers to view programming when they choose, has been a potentially critical offering for the cable operators for several years. Its importance is tied in part to competition with satellite companies DirecTV(NYSE: DTV)EchoStar(Nasdaq: DISH), which can provide only a rudimentary approximation of video on demand. 

However, solid video-on-demand technical capability, which the cable operators possess, is virtually useless without compelling programming. But agreements between programmers and cable operators have been far slower to materialize than many had expected. Therefore, this new agreement is of real significance for Comcast and potentially for other cable operators.

Comcast and Disney have been unusual among media companies in 2006 — the year has been good to their shareholders. That shouldn't change now, since it appears that these two revitalized companies have inked a win-win agreement.


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