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Summary:

AdAge reports on Comcast’s ambitions to become a Yahoo-type portal. The cable giant is beginning to add more online sales people, hoping to capture a piece of the online advertising pot of gold. It is also opening up its Internet pages to its non-broadband subscribers, which […]

AdAge reports on Comcast’s ambitions to become a Yahoo-type portal. The cable giant is beginning to add more online sales people, hoping to capture a piece of the online advertising pot of gold. It is also opening up its Internet pages to its non-broadband subscribers, which quickly doubles its potential user base. In theory at least! Paid Content has a good wrap up of the story, and some pithy observations.

Now with around 10 million broadband subscribers, it is hard to blame Comcast for having portal ambitions. Just as an aside, isn’t portal a throwback of a vertically integrated Internet 1.0 era? How quaint! How old fashioned! Still, I wonder the wisdom of this move, especially since the company is fighting the triple play battle with politically more savvy phone companies. Shouldn’t that be the focus? I think this is yet another example of “google envy.” (Google envy is a generic term I use when referring to companies that are jealous of profits made by online advertising players such as Yahoo and Google.)

“For us to be successful online, you have to believe that people will still want to come to a single source for much of their online-video entertainment,” said Warren Schlichting, VP-new business strategies at Comcast. “That’s the basic underlying philosophy. We think there’s a role for somebody to work with many content providers.”

That is Comcast speak for phone companies’ “say no to network neutrality” philosophy, but lets leave that argument for another day. Comcast’s attempt to build a portal presence around video is interesting, only because video is one of their core strengths. The minute they start doing a Yahoo-style portal, they are swimming upstream. Check out the growing popularity of “do-it-yourself home pages” built with widgets from say Google, video from You Tube and photos from Photobucket. These concepts are not mainstream today, but general trends are pointing in that direction.

Still, all that aside, lets look at the numbers…. Comscore’s latest data shows that Comcast had about 17.6 million unique visitors in July 2006. Just as a comparison, Target, the discount store chain, had 26 million unique visitors in July to its website. They clearly have their work cut out. Historically, whenever service providers have attempted to create their own portals, the results have been lackluster at the very best. I am not sure why it would be any different. And it is not just service providers. With the exception of Yahoo, the portal plays made by all comers have been cash guzzlers. Google for all its reach, or Microsoft for all its might and AOL – all are still a distant second compared to Yahoo, the one true portal.

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  1. Niall Kennedy Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    Comcast’s network of last-mile routers and location-specific advertising already in place should give it a leg up in the market. Why should Crazy Al’s Used Car lot be restricted to only playing on cable between 2 and 3 a.m.? There are plenty of online buyers too!

  2. Keith L. Dick Tuesday, August 15, 2006

    God has decided he wants this planet back… I think he wants to start over…

    Go figure, Stupid is as Stupid Does…

  3. Have they recruited anyone interesting?

  4. I was wondering when we see the carriers (pipes) get in on the content (portal) game. I figured they would partner with existing portals, similar to AT&T/Yahoo, but this is very interesting.

    The gameboard is getting bigger.

  5. Why regard this and the network neutrality conversations separately?

    For a variety of reasons (e.g. their large profits from backing half.com), Comcast has a pretty good idea about how they might make money off dotcom models. If they succeed in killing net neutrality, both legally and then technologically, they can afford to pursue a Web1.0 model for quite some time — and they know how. If we innovative web services providers are paying the same kinds of access fees that GYM, et al, will have to, how are the cool Web2 apps going to reach Comcast subscribers?

  6. Jeffrey McManus Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    Comcast had a profitable technology portal (techtv.com) in their hands but they pulled the plug on it in the acquisition and G4 rebranding. Huge mistake — they lost literally millions of users.

  7. I agree with Niall.
    Cable has always been in the business of local advertising sales.

    Adding additional tasks (and value?) to the sales force selling slots to local used car dealers can bring in online advertises with local search reach.

  8. Michael Markman Wednesday, August 16, 2006

    OK, so a Comcast portal for captive broadband customers seems so Twentieth Century AOL. And Comcast will never supplant Yahoo! But they don’t have to. Look at this through a long-tail lens. There’s plenty of extra money to be extracted from Comcast advertisers, plenty of content leverage to be extracted from Comcast TV network suppliers, and plenty of triple-play stickiness to bond to customers.

    Another way to look at this is as Comcast playing defense. The people who control the TV and movie shows are trying to route around the multi-channel providers with various IP distribution plays (iTunes store, MySpace, Google, direct distribution from their own websites). Google has changing course and is now courting and engaging with the content players. The options for video distribution over IP for viewers, content owners, and advertisers are multiplying. No way that Comcast can afford to sit still and let the world route around cable TV.

  9. Comcast has some very good folks working on this, but the team is insanely small compared to a Yahoo, AOL, or Google. I am not sure of the depth with social networking/social web and other things that will supply value or if they are building a last generation portal around video.

    Comcast is building Google portal as I don’t think they will own the content. Yahoo has a lot of content they own. Content owners are fickle and can jump in or out of bed with whomever. Seeing the well done AOL music video service I am not sure Comcast could drop the same thing in place and take away from their market share as MTV seems to be heading to their own portal. If the owners of the content in the channels on Comcast build their own portals and resources (not a gigantic endeavor, outside content hosting and transmission, looking at how quickly a YouTube could get built and into action).

    In short Comcast would be many years from competing with Yahoo. Comcast has desperately needed an a much better web offering for their customers. This could be an improvement for Comcast customers, but I doubt it would be a reason to switch to Comcast or keep somebody from moving to another service.

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