Comcast Wants To Be Yahoo

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.