Roberts Demos Comcast On Demand Online, Talks Up NBC


Brian Roberts of Comcast (s CMSCA) kicked off this year’s Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco today with a very topical discussion of TV Everywhere, NBC (s GE) acquisition talks, broadband and net neutrality. Here are the choice bits:

Roberts offered a preview of Comcast’s On Demand Online product, which is currently in trials. He called the product “video on demand on steroids” and said it would be changed significantly before coming out by the end of this year. “I think video over the net is friend, not foe,” he said.

“Because we’re not bound by the storage in your box, we’re just bound by the storage on your headend — we’re on the Internet now — we can have every single episodes of Entourage. Ever,” said Roberts as he scrolled through screenshots of the trial. The site looked a lot like Fancast, and indeed showed a working product name of “Comcast TV on Fancast.” (Sorry we don’t have screenshots yet — I didn’t bring a camera and Comcast says it won’t email them. Update: video of the interview is embedded.)

Roberts emphasized that authentication is simple, with an email login and password. Content that a user has access to from premium networks like Starz and HBO automatically shows in their screen, with a little green key symbol next to it. Free content (the stuff that’s on Fancast right now) is available alongside. The streamed video offerings include episodes, movies, TV listings, news and gossip, and the site can be used as a remote DVR. Videos each had links to share on email, Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the like, with an embed code (would be interesting to see what happens with embeds for unauthenticated users) as well as some participatory tools like ratings.

Speculating about possible business models, Roberts said flexibility was key. “Maybe producers want to make a show that’s not available on TV, or advance episodes of a show, maybe that costs extra.”

On other topics, Roberts gave a formal no comment on NBC acquisition talks, but was less than evasive about the motivations for such a deal. He said that Comcast was happy about its forays into content such as like E! and the Golf Channel, and that NBC’s dual sources of revenue from subscription and advertising are “something very special.”

After spending billions of dollars on infrastructure upgrades that “frankly, we don’t have a business plan to pay for,” Roberts pleaded that Comcast is actually doing its best to provide an open and high quality broadband experience. He contested the contention that American broadband is not up to the world standard, saying that it was more of a matter of slow adoption by rural potential users.

Roberts deflected criticism about his company’s stance on net neutrality, saying anything Comcast would do would be in line with consumer and industry expectations. “The idea that we’re not going to have an open Internet is just not realistic…. The goal is to make it faster, and to be very transparent and be very fair in doing that.”

Regarding tru2way, Roberts admitted that deployments may be going slower than hoped, saying the mismatched pace of new TV and new boxes was a hindrance. He said it was key for Comcast to become an open platform as soon as possible so it can build a developer ecosystem and differentiate from satellite competitors with interactive features.

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