For some of the country’s top TV critics, VOD’s a good, if not spectacular, option. If their cable operators had more programming (and if the service were easier to use), they might even start writing about it. We asked a few members of the Television Critics Association for their opinions on VOD programming based on what their local cable operators offer. In each case, the service piqued the interest of the scribes. And in each case, they complained that they wanted more and better programming. Clearly, HBO is an on-demand favorite: Each reviewer mentioned its offerings by name. (Two of the three singled out Curb Your Enthusiasm.) However, second-rate VOD programming from other networks left the critics cold. It’s not perfect. But it’s a start. Mike McDaniel
TV reporter/critic
Houston Chronicle Without providing figures, Time Warner Houston says video on demand has been quite profitable for them. This is true even though Time Warner has only scratched the surface of VOD potential in this market, offering movies and a small sampling of mostly cable programming (including premium cable offerings, such as HBO on Demand—perfect for those who want the latest Curb Your Enthusiasm right now). It is slowly introducing more product, but at nowhere near the pace of other cable outlets in other communities. Not that I blame them—cable and satellite use in the nation’s fourth largest city (and 11th largest TV market) is retarded compared to the rest of the nation. Because of flat topography and a large blue-collar populace, not to mention an unpleasant history with local cable companies, penetration here is in the mid-50% range. The good news is that most cable subscribers also get digital cable. I have no problems at the paper introducing, reviewing or otherwise writing about anything on television, even shows on such "obscure" channels as Oxygen and IFC. I have written sparingly about VOD; my last mention was in January when Time Warner began offering VOD programming in HD. (I’d love to write that some of the shows on some of those "obscure" channels, like IFC’s Dinner for Five, are being offered, but I suppose that’s far down on Time Warner’s priority list. And what about sports programming?) I’m anxious to get to the next step. I want to be able to order any program I want at any time I want at a next-to-nothing price. I’m also curious as to what other packages might be out there that my cable company can provide. Dave Walker
TV columnist
New Orleans Times-Picayune Cox Communications serves most of the New Orleans metro area, though Charter has some of the parishes north of Lake Pontchartrain. I’m a Cox subscriber, and the VOD offerings—marketed as Entertainment on Demand by Cox—seem pretty typical based on what I know to be available elsewhere, including an array of rotating feature films, plus on-demand stuff from HBO and Cinemax. I use the HBO on Demand service most, if only to get caught up on Bill Maher’s show or to drift away on a Curb Your Enthusiasm episode I’ve probably seen three times already. The coolest thing Cox does here with EOD, though, is archive locally produced music and entertainment programming. Cox produced several seasons of a local-music performance series called Louisiana Jukebox, and individual cuts from that library are available, listed by performer on the VOD menu. It’s been touted as a nightlife guide. ("The Radiators are playing at Tip’s." "Who?" "Let’s check ’em out on VOD.") But trolling through the tunes is a great way to kill an afternoon. And it’s free, for now at least. A few other programs of niche interest also are available via free VOD, and coming in the next few weeks are episodes of Morgus Presents. Dr. Momus Alexander Morgus was a character who hosted local creature-feature broadcasts starting in the late 1950s. He’s come and gone over the years, but Cox recently has revived some bits that Morgus shot in the late 1980s, to be run on one of its paid-access channels (analog tier, between local Fox and ABC affiliates). The half-hour episodes, repackaged from fright-film wraparound sketches, will get a brief free VOD run, too. Every city had a Morgus-type, but his shtick is still beloved here. I wouldn’t be surprised if it quickly becomes Cox’s most-ordered VOD offering. Roger Catlin
TV critic
Hartford Courant It was the TiVo my cable system [Comcast] sold me that’s kept me from sampling the system’s video on demand, it turns out. Not only did TiVo override cable’s channel changing (using those weird, taped-on arms), it refused to stay on the channel designated for VOD the times I accidentally landed there. Only by disengaging TiVo could I see what was actually offered. Like the second-tier shelf at the video store, it didn’t offer the hottest titles, but had a roster of movies covering a long period of time, from Bush’s Brain to Cactus Flower. Offerings from specific channels tended toward shows they were pushing more than their top programs: Distraction from Comedy Central; not The Daily Show. Still, there was a great sampling of HBO original programming from The Sopranos to Deadwood. I had to stand and circumnavigate all of this manually on the box, which had no buttons for pauses or fast-forwards—though the bone-shaped TiVo remote certainly did. It’s nice to think VOD is there if it’s ever needed. But with a backlog on TiVo and an overload of programming on hundreds of live channels, there seems little reason to go there.

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