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VOD services get new releases when they're still new

Cable operators are experimenting with video-on-demand services that get new releases to subscribers at the same time they're available in video rental stores.

Renting movies on DVD could soon be a thing of the past, as cable operators experiment with new ways to get movies and even TV shows to viewers quicker, using their video-on-demand platforms.

On Monday, Comcast announced that it would provide some Hollywood hit movies on its video-on-demand, or VOD, service the same day they're offered on DVD. It also announced that some new television series will premiere on its VOD service at least one week before airing on regular TV.

Time Warner Cable started experimenting with a similar program in March 2007 in Austin, Texas, and Columbus, Ohio. It struck deals with Warner Bros. and New Line Cinema to offer new releases on its VOD service in those markets the same day the movies are released on DVD.

In an effort to appeal to subscribers who also want to own their movies, Cablevision Systems is taking a slightly different approach. Also on Monday, Cablevision launched a new service with Popcorn Home Entertainment that enables people to buy DVDs through the Cablevision VOD service and have them shipped to their home. With the purchase of the DVD, customers are also given immediate access to the movie via VOD.

Typically, there's a lag time between when movies hit video rental stores and retail outlets on DVD and when they're available by cable operators through video-on-demand. Studios make a lot of money from DVD sales and rentals, so they have resisted releasing new movies, especially big hits, on VOD at the same time they release it on DVD.

But movie viewers seem to like the convenience of video-on-demand. Comcast, which is the largest cable operator in the country, said its subscribers select a VOD program more than 100 times per second. That amounts to roughly 275 million video-on-demand selections per month.