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Cable Operators

Deal Done, Comcast Chases Synergies

3/07/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

Comcast chairman and CEO
Brian Roberts wants the investment
community to know that the cable giant
wasn’t sitting on its hands during
the past year while it was awaiting regulatory
approval for its NBC Universal
joint venture.

And now, a month into that deal, Roberts
sees even more innovation and activity
in the broadband, technology and
connectivity realms.

Comcast announced its $30 billion dollar
joint venture with NBCU on Dec.
3, 2009. In the 13 months it took to secure
government approvals — the JV
closed on Jan. 28, 2011 — Comcast invested
in authentication, new billing
systems, advanced advertising and conditional access. About
a month after Apple launched its popular iPad tablet, Comcast
had introduced applications that turned the device into a TV
remote control. (See Cover Story.)

In June, it demonstrated a new interactive programming
guide for the iPad that it launched in November
across its footprint. By January of this year, 1.3 million customers
have downloaded the application that essentially
turns the iPad into a TV controller.

“For us to have rolled out 1 million
[set-top] boxes, or to have had 1
million truck rolls, would have taken
years,” Roberts said at the Morgan
Stanley Technology, Media & Telecom
conference last week. “This all went
from idea to completion in less than
six months.”

Roberts said the innovation is
not stopping there — it recently
launched a “Play Now” feature for
the iPad which allows customers to
view On Demand movies and programs
on the device. Currently, Play
Now has a handful of content partners
— Home Box Office, Turner
Networks, Starz and Showtime. Conspicuously,
no NBCU programming
is available on Play Now.

“We’re going to fix that very soon,” Roberts said.

Roberts said that now that the NBCU deal is closed,
Comcast can focus on synergies between its programming
networks. He added that it has already started — coverage
of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship was promoted
on both the Golf Channel and the NBC broadcast
network; and NBC’s Today worked with the E! on red carpet
coverage at this year’s Academy Awards.

“NBC can help our cable networks, and our cable networks
can help NBC,” Roberts said.

Comcast currently makes about 3,000 hours of on-demand
programming available via the iPad app, about 25,000 choices
via On Demand and 150,000 choices on its Xfinity.com website.
Roberts said the intention was to eventually make all of
its content — including live programming — available wherever
and whenever its customers want it.

Roberts said that the popularity of On Demand is unprecedented
— Comcast alone has had 18 billion On Demand views
since it was first introduced, and its customers watch for an
average of a half-hour per session. In addition, 75% of Comcast
customers who use On Demand use it 25 times per month.

“What we were lacking was a great navigational device and
the ability to share more content,” Roberts added. “I think we
fixed that.”

September