Get Your TV Shows On Demand

What if you want to watch the evening news at midnight, but don't want to hassle with your VCR or a digital video recorder? You can do it if your cable television company carries On Demand, a new service that offers access to prerecorded programming.

The service, already available from cable companies in some cities, records programming by type, such as children's shows, HBO series, news broadcasts, and cooking demonstrations, to central servers. Cable subscribers can access this programming using their cable box. That means they can choose to watch Teletubbies at 3 a.m. if they want, with TiVo-like capabilities to pause, rewind, and fast-forward.

Beyond offering time-shifted access to regular cable programming, On Demand also offers movies and special programs. Subscribers can choose from new releases and older films. They also have a choice of specialty programming that isn't otherwise broadcast on cable, such as yoga instruction and information on motorcycles. The service is part of a united effort by cable companies to beat back the strong challenge by satellite television.

In most areas, use of On Demand comes free with a digital cable subscription, but not all of the content is free. Only subscribers to premium channels like HBO or Showtime will be able to access content from those networks. And some of the program offerings, primarily the movies, are available only for a fee, which ranges from $2.95 for older movies to $4.95 for the latest flicks. That fee is added to your monthly cable bill.

Is It Overkill?

Many cable companies are also offering set-top boxes that include digital video recorders. But the two services aren't necessarily overkill, according to Page Thompson, vice president of marketing for Comcast Cable Communications, one of the cable executives promoting On Demand at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas last week.

DVRs appeal to people who are willing to be very active, programming in advance the exact shows and series they want to watch, Thompson says. On Demand is better for people who don't want to go through the trouble of planning what to record but still want more choice in what they view.

The service also allows cable companies to offer specialty and local programming that they can't find a place for on one of their regular cable channels. For instance, Thompson says, shows featuring the Japanese animation known as anime have been wildly popular with the art form's relatively small but fanatical group of admirers.

In Philadelphia, On Demand offers shows with highlights of the latest Philadelphia Sixers game. And the service recently packaged season's greetings videos from Philadelphia-area service personnel in Iraq into a frequently requested half-hour show.

A few million households across the country already have access to On Demand, and many more should be added by the end of the year. The service requires upgrading cable wiring in many areas. Additional information is available from OnlyCableCan.com.

This story, "Get Your TV Shows On Demand" was originally published by PCWorld.

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