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Comcast Bulks Up

2/08/2008 7:00 PM Eastern

Comcast Media Center has expanded its relationship with SES Americom by signing a multiyear, multitransponder contract intended to help CMC expand its offerings to cable affiliates.

Overall, the pact with SES Americom, first disclosed last month, is meant to enhance and expand CMC's HITS Quantum platform, providing cable-operator affiliates with better service and easier access to more satellite-delivered programming and advanced offerings such as HDTV and video on demand. The term HITS stands for Headend in the Sky.

Eventually, the CMC will use 29 C-band transponders in SES Americom's HD-PRIME satellite neighborhood to deliver the current HITS Quantum platform, plus additional services, to HITS affiliates. The media center is transitioning services to C-band from Ku-band.

The new pact with SES Americom will allow the Media Center to consolidate its programming services onto fewer satellites, which is meant to make it easier for affiliates to receive its offerings.

“This expansion of the CMC's relationship with SES Americom allows our HITS affiliates to deploy a highly competitive lineup of advanced video services while realizing a substantial savings in cost and bandwidth without sacrificing quality,” CMC chief operating officer Gary Traver said in a release last week.

“Our new satellite agreement joins several other developments that, all told, represent the largest commitment by the CMC or its predecessors, to HITS in the service's entire 15-year history,” he said.

One side effect of the new deal is that CMC is shutting down its HITS2Home service, a satellite overlay that allowed small cable systems to expand their channel lineups without installing pricey headend gear. Operators would supply customers with small satellite dishes, and digital programming would be delivered directly to these homes by satellite.

Beginning this spring, the majority of video services offered by HITS Quantum — including standard and HDTV linear and non-linear programming — will be available on three satellites in SES Americom's HD-PRIME neighborhood: AMC-1, AMC-4 and AMC-18.

HITS Quantum — an all-digital platform of more than 210 linear HDTV and standard definition digital video and audio services — is one of CMC's multiplatform distribution services, as is a VOD platform that manages and distributes some 7,000 offerings each month.

Initially, the CMC will use 15 of the 21 AMC-18 transponders to continue the delivery of HITS Quantum HD channels, expand the HD lineup and offer the HITS Quantum Classic lineup. The last service currently includes more than 150 standard-definition TV channels and 38 digital audio services.

The HITS Quantum SD lineup, which is available on AMC 4, currently includes digital feeds for 68 widely carried basic and expanded basic channels. VOD programming, including the CMC's “VOD In a Box” service, is available on the AMC-1 satellite.

HITS affiliates can receive these HITS Quantum services from all three satellites with one antenna by retrofitting an existing antenna that is already looking at one of these satellites or receive a new one through SES Americom's popular triple-feed antenna program, the CMC said.

Access to multiple services via one antenna lets affiliates efficiently deliver more programming choices and advanced services to their customers by maximizing bandwidth, according to the CMC.

The CMC's new agreement with SES Americom is one of several developments the Comcast unit announced ahead of the National Cable Television Cooperative Winter Education Conference, to be held in Phoenix Feb. 18 to 19.

The CMC is also expected to announce several new services and enhancements to its existing offering related to digital headend equipment, bandwidth reclamation and the launch of advanced services.

SES Americom has now executed agreements with customers for all of AMC-18's capacity, its newest satellite. SES Americom's HD-PRIME neighborhood is the industry's only five-satellite platform for ubiquitous delivery of HDTV programming to headends nationwide.

September