Comcast Will Expand Streaming On Demand This Year; Not Quite TV Everywhere

Comcast And Starz

Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) On Demand Online will move from trial to reality later this year but not as the TV Everywhere wonderland all the hype might lead subscribers to expect: the streaming on demand will be limited to some cable shows and movies, access will be limited to in-home computers — and, at first, access will be possible only through Comcast’s own ISP, barring anyone who does not pay Comcast for video and broadband. But, as promised, the actual service will be free to cable subscribers; access will be through Comcast.net or the company’s video portal Fancast.

Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts announced the expansion during the opening talk at the Web 2.0 Summit this afternoon. In an earlier briefing, Comcast execs told AP plans still call for opening access to competing broadband providers and access outside the home and on mobile devices. AP also reports that eventually access will be possible through the websites of participating cable nets like AMC.

No deal with Starz yet: Comcast’s 5,000-subscriber trial included content from a couple of dozen cable programmers and broadcasters, among them Time Warner’s HBO, TBS and TNT; CBS; (NYSE: CBS) Discovery; AETN; Rainbow Media; Scripps and premium channel Starz. The deals covered only the trial, which was seen not only as a test of authentication but for programmers and advertisers as well. A spokesman for Starz tells paidContent the programmer was pleased with the results of the test operationally but does not yet have a deal with Comcast to take part in the next stage. A Comcast spokeswoman says all of the networks are on board for the next phase.

Comcast, NBCU, etc.: Comcast already delivers a considerable amount of shows and movies from broadcasters and cable programmers through Fancast’s distribution deal with Hulu, the JV owned by NBCU, Fox, Disney (NYSE: DIS) aand Providence Equity Partners. That’s an advertising model for now; paid subscriptions for some content may be on the way. The TV Everywhere concept is a little different — it’s based on making video cable subs already pay to see available across platforms using authentication to verify their right to see the video. As I’ve written before, Hulu could be used just as Fancast is to do authentication, as could similar platforms. Some people analyzing the possible GE-Comcast deal view becoming the majority owner of NBCU and thus a partner in Hulu as some kind of antidote that will protect Comcast’s cable subscription dollars. But even if a deal happened next week, Comcast would be at arm’s length from NBCU through the regulatory process — and, people familiar with the situation tell me, even after that. I’m not so sure about the latter but Comcast will be on this dual track indefinitely. More to come.

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