VOD is new enough that when usage numbers are released we listen intently. The latest: Comcast chief Brian Roberts says the MSO is seeing an avg of 50mln on-demand downloads/month, 60% accessed via SVOD, with 10% racked up on an individual transactional basis. Those numbers are expected to get even better next year, but " ’06 is where the fun is going to come," vp for product and biz dev Steve Heeb told the assembled at IRG Research’s TV On-Demand Summit. His boss’ prediction of 1bln VOD downloads for ’06 sounds like a veritable barrel of monkeys for Comcast shareholders. — Still, in a panel on VOD’s profitability, CNBC market analyst Jim Cramer called on-demand a fabulous story that doesn’t "add up to anything." But Arroyo pres/CEO Kim Kelly shot back, saying the Street has bought the DBS/telco hype. "Look, every 2nd comer is going to get 30% of the marketplace, no matter how inferior the product." And while Comcast vp, digital TV Mark Hess said the VOD business model still needs tinkering, offering a 30% split of free on- demand —a tactic also embraced by Time Warner Cable—seems to be "priming the pump" for consumers. "This is not a science project," Hess said. "The platform’s there … let’s take advantage of it." — Fit to Print: While Cramer played devil’s advocate, he ended the session with a tepid endorsement, saying he felt "much better" about VOD’s potential for profitability after moderating the panel. He reiterated that cable stocks are seriously undervalued.

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