BY SHIRLEY BRADY

Cablevision officially launches VOOM, the new HDTV-focused DBS service from Rainbow Media, on Oct. 15; a beta test and consumer website [www.voom.com] launched Oct. 1. Mickey Alpert leads VOOM as its senior EVP and COO, while Bill Casamo serves as EVP marketing and sales and Jay Aldrich as EVP finance. Up to 39 HD networks will launch next week, although a few standard-def programmers such as TechTV were still debating last week whether to join the upconverted lineup of SD basic cable networks. The FCC last week also denied EchoStar’s request to renew its temporary authority on two unassigned transponders at 61.5 degrees, giving them to Rainbow so VOOM can claim 13 transponders (instead of 11). Rainbow is also prepping World Picks, a new hi-def SVOD package of up to 20 new foreign-language networks that could be added to Cablevision’s iO digital service by the end of the year.

••• A day after Comcast president and CEO Brian Roberts told a Goldman Sachs conference that VOD is “a fantastic product and superior to a TiVo-type solution,” the company launched its vision of localized VOD. On Oct. 1, in Philadelphia, Comcast launched Get Local, a free VOD service produced by its regional CN8 network. The video vignettes of local news, sports (including high school events), weather, business and entertainment are hosted by CN8 talent such as Lynn Doyle and Lou Tilley. Unlike its Philly on Demand test with Scripps Networks earlier this year, the channel will be updated daily and is likely to launch in other markets (and add advertising) next year. About 70% of Philly-area digital subs have tried Comcast on Demand, with more than 90% now repeat users. “July was our highest usage rate ever: 504% for video-on-demand,” says Michael Doyle, president of Comcast’s Eastern division. “We had over 2.5 million usage points of VOD in the DMA alone.” PBS Kids on Demand is also now a value-added service to its digital subs in Philly, New Jersey, New England and Baltimore. ••• Other tidbits from the Goldman Sachs confab: Comcast added 30% more HSD subs in July and August over summer 2002 and is on track to add 1.6 million cable modem subs in 2003 for a total of 5.2 million by year’s end; penetration is now in the 12-13% range, Roberts said…Cox Communications CEO Jim Robbins said his company will stop selling HD receiver boxes in stores in favor of leasing; customers are complaining that retail’s too pricey. Cox expects to have HDTV (now in 56% of its markets) available in 85% of its markets by Dec. 31 and will eventually offer a free tier of local channels and more popular networks in HDTV…AOL Time Warner media and communications group chairman Don Logan said he’s bullish on VoIP and expects Time Warner Cable to roll out its Digital Phone service (now in Portland, Maine) to four other cities this fall and to most of its major markets by the end of the year. ••• Bright House Networks is now testing VoIP service from Volo Communications in Florida for $25/month, while Cablevision just expanded its $34.95 VoIP offering in Long Island and expects to expand it to Connecticut and New Jersey systems by the end of the year. Bright House’s Tampa Bay system adds an HD tier (with INHD and INHD2) on Oct. 14 for $6 a month, when it also introduces a six-channel digital sports tier ($3.09/mo.) and Nuestros Canales, a seven-channel Hispanic digital tier ($2.99/mo.) ••• TWC’s Road Runner HSD service is launching a co-branded broadband movie download service with Movielink. More than 450 new releases and classic titles from Disney, MGM, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros. and Universal Studios will cost $2.95 to $4.99. Road Runner customers can also vote for a “movie of the month” to be added to the service. Time Warner Cable’s DVR product is now in more than 150,000 homes; it is also adding the Anime Network as a free VOD channel in select markets next month…Disney’s MovieBeam VOD service launched last week in three Comcast markets: Salt Lake City, Jacksonville, Fla., and Spokane, Wash. Customers pay $6.99/mo. for the Samsung-made set-top box and $3.99 for new releases and $2.49 for older titles; the only studio not contributing its titles to the datacasting test is Paramount, a partner in Movielink. ••• Blue Ridge Communications today launches free VOD with Mag Rack and TechTV content in addition to Home and Living on Demand from Scripps Networks (offering up to 40 hours from Food, HGTV, DIY and Fine Living) for $1.99/mo. It’s also introducing Starz on Demand — at no additional cost to its $12.95 Starz Super Pak — in four Pennsylvania markets, joining HBO and MAX on Demand, both launched in December; movies-on-demand from TVN cost $2.95/$3.95. Today BRC also introduces a new VOD user interface including searches by rating or top five viewed movies. It plans to soon add locally encoded VOD content from local original channels Cable 11 and TV13 plus content from NBC. ••• Showtime launches The Movie Channel HD on Dec. 1…HDNet‘s 65-game NHL schedule starts Friday at 9 p.m. ET with the Colorado Avalanche hosting the Chicago Blackhawks; the multi-year agreement brings hi-def NHL games to HDNet’s cable partners at Charter, Insight and members of the National Cable TV Co-op…InDemand added content from So! Animation to its INHD lineup.

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A+E Networks launched a new FAST (free ad-supported streaming TV) channel Skills + Thrills , debuting on The Roku Channel on Tuesday. The series

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