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Summary:

Despite the mix of broadcast, cable and digital assets that would come together as part of a joint venture between Comcast and NBC, it seems that divisions will remain online delivering content that is produced by broadcast networks and cable networks.

Despite the mix of broadcast, cable and digital assets that would come together as part of a joint venture between Comcast and NBC, it seems that divisions will remain online between content that is produced by broadcast networks and cable networks.

Both Comcast and NBC have been among the leaders in bringing premium video content online; the cable company, through its On-Demand Online initiative (now inexplicably called Fancast Xfinity), and NBC through its distribution of videos on Hulu. But if the Comcast-NBC deal goes through, don’t expect the new joint venture to change much in the way the companies handle their videos online.

For instance, Comcast’s own digital media properties — like Fancast and Comcast.net — will remain part of the cable mothership and will not be included in the joint venture. Those sites will continue to be used for the cable company’s upcoming Xfinity project, which would tie the videos that are available to subscribers online to the cable packages that they’ve paid for.

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At the same time, Comcast execs seem to be taking a “hands off” approach to the way that NBC Universal chooses to distribute its videos online. On the companies’ investor relations call earlier today, Comcast COO Steve Burke said that he expected broadcast content NBC to continue to be available in an ad-supported format on Hulu, while the companies would reserve full-length videos from premium cable networks to be made available online through TV Everywhere-type services.

Calling the separate business models “complementary,” Burke went on to say that he didn’t expect much to change  in the way NBC Universal managed the distribution of its content.

“Right now, NBC Universal is distributing a lot of their broadcast content on Hulu, and they have been quite careful not to put too much of their paid-for-cable content out for free over the Internet,” Burke said. “We think both those strategies are smart and appropriate… and we would see after the deal closing, lots of broadcast content going to Hulu and being available for free, and cable content that cable customers pay for, that cable companies and satellite companies and telcos pay for, being on TV Everywhere.”

Burke also seemed to throw cold water on the formation of a premium, subscription-based service from Hulu. When asked if he foresaw the creation of a Hulu Premium service on the investor call, Burke said such a plan was “certainly not in the cards.” But on a press call a few hours later, he backpedaled from that stance while seeking to clarify his original answer. “During the next year, NBC Universal is very likely to be doing exactly what it had been doing,” Burke said.

Burke pointed out that NBC is just a minority shareholder in Hulu, and that the specific business models that needed to be worked out would be left to Hulu management, as well as to the new joint venture’s CEO Jeff Zucker. But Zucker declined to elaborate much on the topic, saying that he didn’t want to talk about the Hulu roadmap.

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  1. Kate Noel here from Comcast. We are 100% committed to online video. As Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said this morning, “This deal is a perfect fit for Comcast and will allow us to become a leader in the development and distribution of multiplatform ‘anytime, anywhere’ media that American consumers are demanding.”

    Read more on Comcast Voices: http://blog.comcast.com/

    Kate Noel
    Comcast

    1. Kate – No doubt, Comcast is interested in advancing online video, and has certainly invested in it heavily with acquisitions and development of sites like Fancast, etc. What I find interesting, though, is how there’s a separate approach to broadcast vs. cable content.

      The question I have is if there’s room for subscription or micropayment services for broadcast content in the way Comcast envisions this joint venture. Also, if there’s a place for non-TV Everywhere access to cable content. (In other words, an online HBO subscription that’s not specifically tied to my Comcast bill.)

  2. What Burke isn’t saying is that part of the reason cable nets have been limited about what they put on Hulu is due to restrictions put on them by cable systems like Burke’s own Comcast. Limitations accepted in exchange for lucrative subscriber fees, it should be noted.

    Note how careful Burke is to say “broadcast” content, which is limited only to NBC and Telemundo. Ryan, you use the term “premium cable” whereas Burke says “paid-for-cable,” which is entirely a different thing. Every non-broadcast cable channel is “paid for” by the subscribers – CNBC, USA, etc. It’s a noteworthy distinction.

    A GE-controlled NBCU might seek to lift those limitations on USA, Bravo & Syfy content when existing cable affiliate deals expired. (Such deals are typically long contracts, 10 years or so.) A Comcast-controlled NBCU would likely seek to maintain or expand those limitations.

    1. SR – The difference between “premium” and “paid-for” is noted, and appreciated. I’ll be more careful about how I throw around these terms in the future.

      Interesting point about what a GE-controlled NBCU might do versus a Comcast-controlled NBCU. To my point in the comment above, I wonder which (if any) cable nets would consider partial unbundling from cable packages to be able to offer streamed services direct to the consumer, rather than as part of “TV Everywhere.”

  3. There is another dimension to this debate which is access to On Demand distribution of content.

    As more and more viewing moves to ON Demand, we have essentially the potential for “monopolistic” behavior by Comcast and Hulu, who will control a significant percentage of On-Demand long form video views. In this scenario, long form channels essentially become “barker” channels for On Demand Content and the advanced functionality that will be deployed on the VoD network. The value is migrating to On Demand.

    Given this reality, th FCC needs to facilitate a discussion regarding On-Demand capacity and the allocation of such to ensure
    fair access.

    There was very little in the Comcast letter on this. As a start if Kate is sincere, the promise of two digital channels a year for independent content producers should be replaced or complemented by access commitments to the On Demand services for independent content producers and minority channels. This is where the money will be made in the next decade.

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  8. Just browsing the web and noticed this article. As a DISH employee I can definitely say that DISH Network’s TV Everywhere is not limited to just some things. TV Everywhere is just like it reads. You can watch TV from your Smartphone, Android, or laptop on the go it’s such a great option. -Joe

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