Comcast (s CMCSA) has partnered with Skype (s MSFT) to bring its video chat service to subscriber living rooms. The partnership, which is being announced at the Cable Show on Monday, will make it easy for consumers to take advantage of high-quality video conferencing with friends and family through their HDTV sets and Comcast broadband connection.
Comcast subscribers will be able to video chat with any other Skype user, whether those Skype friends are connected through PCs, mobile phones or tablets or connected TVs. To do so, Comcast will provide users with an adapter box, a video camera that sits atop their TV or home entertainment center, and a specialized remote control that will let users text on Skype while also controlling their TV.
Subscribers with the Skype equipment installed can then make and receive video and audio calls from the comfort of their living rooms, or send instant messages to other Skype users while also watching TV. When users call them, the system will display a caller ID message through the TV. Comcast subscribers will also be able to interact with the home video conferencing system through compatible mobile phone and tablet apps.
The Comcast deal could give Skype a boost in growing the home video chat market. While it has been trying to expand the number of connected devices through which consumers can access its video chat service, Skype has largely been held back by additional hardware that is needed to make those services possible. Skype users can now video chat from some Panasonic and Samsung connected TVs, but they need compatible video cameras to do so — and those cameras can cost $130 to $170 each.
Comcast could make the Skype video chat equipment available for a small monthly fee, effectively subsidizing the equipment purchase in the same way it leases the cost of DVRs and digital set-top boxes. And with nearly 23 million subscribers, Comcast gives Skype a huge addressable customer base for HD video chat in the living room. But Comcast isn’t Skype’s only major entry into the living room; with its acquisition by Microsoft, the video chat service is expected to be integrated into existing products by the software giant, including its Xbox Kinect video chat service.
For Comcast, partnering with Skype gives it the possibility of yet another value-added service to offer subscribers. Last week, Comcast announced the availability of a broadband-powered home security system, for instance. Not only do those services help drive up average revenue per subscriber, but they also help make Comcast’s services more sticky with consumers, reducing the probability that they will drop Comcast as their service provider.
Comcast and Skype say that the combined service will enter trials in the next few months, and will make the service generally available to customers later this year.