Comcast’s near future plays

There’s a great feature piece on Comcast running on this week’s cover at Barrons. They present the current financials of the company and talk about the 98% upgraded network which is running quite an array of enhanced services. Most recently the dual-tuner HD DVR has been rolling out but the enhanced VOD service, something that has been touted in advance for some time sounds really killer.

Comcast’s brass is particularly excited about its aggressive rollout of video on demand. The company has begun to make thousands of hours of programming available for download, most of it at no extra charge to its digital-cable subscribers. Comcast customers already can choose from 4,000 hours of programs, including movies, television episodes, advertorials and original content. While there are pay movies — and Comcast officials note that pay-per-view’s popularity has jumped with the introduction of VOD — the real story here is the ability to go a step beyond the DVR and give viewers more flexibility about what they want to watch and when they can watch it.

“The idea is that a subscription to cable is no longer just a subscription to basic cable, plus premium and digital channels,” says Moffett. “It means access to a nearly unlimited library of movies and educational programming and episodes of television shows. This is not pay per view. This is a complete rethinking of the way customers buy video service.”

The company’s video-on-demand ambitions were a key factor in its $60 billion bid for Disney, which the leaders of Mousedom spurned as too low. If it had succeeded, Comcast could have had a stranglehold on family-oriented programming. (The company already owns a small group of cable channels, including E!, the Golf Channel, G4TechTV, the Style Network, the International Channel and Outdoor Life Network.) While Roberts contends that Comcast isn’t likely to attempt anything else on the scale of the Disney foray again, the company has been working diligently to generate a pool of differentiated programs. It recently gained access to the film libraries at MGM and Sony, which include 45,000 TV episodes and 7,500 feature films — according to Roberts, almost half the color movies ever made. The deal is part of the pending $2.9 billion acquisition of MGM by a group of investors led by Sony. Comcast invested $300 million in the transaction.

The company early next year will start offering a rotating roster of about 200 free films from the Sony and MGM libraries to video-on-demand customers each month. Also planned: VOD access to old TV favorites, such as The Three Stooges, The Partridge Family and Starsky & Hutch. The companies have also agreed to roll out three new cable channels, to capitalize on the rich library of films and television programs.

The other key piece from the article that I took away is that Comcast, like the recent Time Warner quadruple-play development, is considering a serious move into wireless. The real difference though is that they are thinking a combination of mobile on the road with a WiFi VOIP phone at home will come through in a single piece of hardware. Sounds excellent! It’s actually great to see large companies — not just the outlaws in VOIP going for it with public thinking like this. It’s this sort of product that will make the tech seemless — assuming the hardware allows it of course — for consumers which should stimulate demand. VOIP makes it pretty easy to move about with your number already, but having it across devices in an easy manner is just great.

Comcast continues to bet well on the future…

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