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Summary:

Comcast is embracing convergence as it recognizes the threat of over-the-top video and seeks to create a communications and entertainment package to keep customers paying for the bundle. I spoke with Comcast’s queen of convergence to learn more.

Comcast is a quarter of the way into what I believe will be its year of embracing convergence. Recognizing just how much damage over-the-top video could do to its bottom line, the cable giant is adding content and services as part of a unified communications and entertainment package.

Will customers continue to subscribe to such services as part of a bundle, or will they elect to buy access to the pipe only? I spoke with Cathy Avgiris, who was recently promoted to the role of Senior Vice President and General Manager of Communications and Data Services for Comcast and as such, is now responsible for the company’s Xfinity feature, as well as its digital voice, mobile and wireline broadband offerings. But after chatting with her on why the bundle will remain in a converged world and when Comcast might offer Wi-Fi to their users, I like to call her the Queen of Convergence.

GigaOM: What is the value of the bundle in a converged world?

Avgiris: We enable our customers to enjoy the services they have from Comcast on as many platforms as possible — it’s less about an individual product than the experience. They are able to watch some shows on a PC and we have a broadband suite of services such as security and online storage. You can see us extending that to, say, video content that you’ll want to store in the cloud and access from anywhere, with the phone holding that together.

GigaOM: And landlines?

Avgiris: As for landlines, they still matter. Eighty percent have a wired phone and I want to participate in that market share. At the end of 2009 we had 16 percent penetration, so there’s a lot of opportunity to offer phone services tied to our other products — so you get voice mail via email or caller ID on your TV. It’s less about competing as a traditional telephone provider and being the converged provider.

GigaOM: What are the challenges for Comcast as services converge? Do cord-cutters frighten you?

Avgiris: We have an amazing backbone infrastructure and the first application for why we needed a connected network was to offer broadband. Digital voice was step two, and over time you’ll see more video enabled over our IP network.

GigaOM: True IPTV? When?

Avgiris: We have 24 million customers on a platform that exists today and we will leverage and maintain it and continue to improve it. That evolution will happen over time, but that’s why we’re providing some video content online and enabling certain video functions like remote programming from the DVR.

GigaOM: So is broadband a profit center, as I see when I look at your earnings? Or is it a commodity that can be traded out if the market were more competitive?

Avgiris: There is an element that is access and provides access to other services and features and what you would expect from Comcast, but there is also the comprehensive suite that could protect your computer and offer storage and give access to your content. We want to offer extra value as a service provider and keep you as a customer.

GigaOM: What about wireless? You guys are in a partnership with Clearwire  for 4G but customers also want Wi-Fi access outside the home. Is that something Comcast would offer? Is it competitive to selling Clear’s mobile broadband?

Avgiris: Our mobility strategy has several legs: with the 4G in partnership with Clearwire, mobile applications, and then there’s Wi-Fi, which we’ve done a number of different things with, such as partner with Cablevision for Comcast Wi-Fi on trains in the Northeast. As for more Wi-Fi  hotspots, we’re testing that out and will see how it plays. With Wi-Fi and mobile 3G and 4G  the whole point is enabling the customers to take their experience inside the home outside the home. But for timing on Wi-Fi rollouts, we’ve no specific plans or announcements on hotspots. It’s really early for us and we’re focused on Wi-Fi in the home.

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This article also appeared on BusinessWeek.com

  1. Brian S Hall Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Good interview, though I remain suspicious. I want to watch what I want to watch, when I want to watch it, where I want to watch it, on the screen I want to watch it on.

    And that’s why i use Netflix/Roku, the iPad and the like.

    If Comcast is ready to do that, great. I’ll be a customer. I’m willing to pay money for this. However, if their cost structure is such that I have to pay to get Fox and CNN, for example, when all I really want is CNBC, then they will become as extinct as newspapers.

  2. Rainier Seidel Sunday, April 4, 2010

    Stacey,

    the title is strangely sexist, particularly coming for you. if the interviewee were male, would you call them the king of convergence? or prince? in any case why not princess of convergence if you wish to be flattering.

    very odd
    -rs

    1. Look up “alliteration” in a dictionary, Prince Rainier of Monaco.

  3. Matt Heinrichs Monday, April 5, 2010

    wow – did she answer a single question?

    seriously, I don’t read GigaOM for softball interviews.

  4. Never did say if cord cutters frightened her or when true IPTV was coming. And yes, the biggie, of unbundling all the channels and going a la carte. Gotta be stronger in your follow-ups, Stacy, and make ‘em answer the questions!!

  5. erika smothers Tuesday, April 6, 2010

    i worked for this lady for years. she is a bean counter and nothing more. i once sat on a conference call where we spent twenty minutes explaining to her why her comcast voice mail messages were not impacting the counter on her answering machine. queen of convergence… what a joke. she is the queen of mean and no amount of make-up or soft balling from om will change that.

    om malik is a total effin sell-out. period.

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