[By Staci D. Kramer] The safest assessment to make of Comcast’s newly formed Comcast Interactive Media is that it’s a work in progress. The second safest is the only thing it has in common with News Corp.’s Fox Interactive Media is the name, which means Wall Street types worried about major spending by CIM on acquisitions can take a deep breath. Comcast isn’t out to build the the kind of traffic or network News Corp. had in mind. Comcast also isn’t playing catch-up in terms of corporate internet strategy in quite the same way although, clearly, CIM is a sign that some rethinking is going on — it actually started earlier this year and CIM is one of the results — and will continue.
Still, CIM is far from the focal point for all of the company’s interactive media. For instance, Charlie Herrin, who heads Comcast.net, will report to Amy Banse, president of CIM, and Greg Butz, SVP-marketing and business development,
Comcast Online. CIM’s responsibilities don’t include mobile or the online programming produced by Comcast’s own cable networks like E!. The immediate focus for Banse and her new team, including Sam Schwartz as EVP-strategy and development: broadband content delivered through Comcast.net. I spoke briefly with Banse and Schwartz by phone. I expect they’ll have a lot more to say in the not-too-distant future, once they finished the details like the ’06 budget and what kind of initiatives they can swing during the next year.
Where does portability fit in?
Banse: Portability is something that the company as a whole is very focused on. I think that (Comcast COO) Steve Burke when he first articulated the video on demand vision (in 2002), started that conversation, started that whole dialogue about offering our customers the ability to watch what they want to watch when they want to watch it. In the last 12-18 months, we’ve added to that motto … regardless of what they want to watch it on. Portability isn’t something that belongs solely to this division; it’s something that all the divisions and all the platforms are working on.
A lot of this will require a fair amount of working across the company then?
Schwartz: Comcast has always done a good job, I think, of providing services to customers rather than just specific connections. … More and more, in the marketplace, the way people consume those services are cross-platform so Comcast is continually looking for ways of integrating our services.”
Banse: “For example — this is more of a vision than a specific — we believe that, because of the nature of the PC and because it’s an instrument that allows for easy navigation, we believe that our portal comcast.net should be the dashboard for our consumer’s entertainment experience.” (One idea would allow consumers to program set-tops remotely through the PC; the cable consortium recently formed for wireless has suggested using the phone as a remote programming device. Both could work.)
Schwartz: “… You could imagine that with all the different services that Comcast offers today there could be some pretty interesting cross-platform features that we’ll explore using.”
You can use broadband to do things that before you couldn’t even justify economically as a digital channel. Banse: (After reminding me that we’d talked about this in the past with video on demand,) With VOD, you could offer very rich content, which beforehand you just couldn’t justify putting it up on a 24/7 basis and I think that flexibility is 10 times as great online.” No word, though, on whether Comcast will set up its own broadband channels a la Scripps.