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Comcast's version of "TV Everywhere" is going to be rolling out soon, but rather than complete television programming streaming everywhere, it's starting to look more like "Some TV on a computer. Near your TV." The company's CEO announced that their online video service will launch later this year. But it will take awhile for Roberts' vision of "pay once, consume anywhere" to come to fruition.
For starters, Comcast can only authenticate viewers in their own homes at launch.
Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced the expansion, calling it "video on demand on steroids." But restrictions on the service make it look less than perfect.
Comcast subscribers will be able to access the current episodes of some shows in their TV video package, and some older episodes from other shows. Says Roberts: "Everything is free and ad-supported. We already have over 9 million unique (visitors) per month. I think video over the Net is our friend, not foe."
There are some interesting features. According to Roberts: "Fancast will also offer a remote DVR function so you can program your DVR from a browser on a PC or notebook to have it record shows you want to view later on your TV. You can't do this anywhere on the Web today, and we'll have this by the end of the year."
But all of the kinks haven't been worked out yet. To start, Comcast subscribers who want to access the service will have to do so at home after being verified by the cable system, which sort of defeats the purpose of "TV Everywhere." If you're watching at home, why not just watch TV programming on TV?
In addition, online viewing will be restricted to customers who also get Internet service through Comcast, not phone carriers or other competitors.
Online advertising is a boon to networks because viewers do not have a way to skip through commercials. And while Hulu and YouTube are working with the networks to get their primetime shows online, the bigger play for Comcast and Time Warner is getting cable content — which is currently run on a subscription model — online.
A company like Comcast can charge subscription fees for content and double dip in advertising revenues on that content. Both Comcast and Time Warner have expressed interest in anything that will "help extend our business in such a way that is open and non-exclusive; consumer friendly; and responsible to our advertisers and shareholders.”
Comcast will be the first cable TV operator to unlock online access to valuable cable shows and movies, replicating the video on demand model online. But limiting the content to Comcast subscribers — and not allowing consumers to purchase solely online access — limits the scope of where they can take this.
For now, Comcast isn't interested in offering television programming online by itself. The company sees TV Everywhere as a way to boost its offline subscription offerings. And Roberts doesn't think consumers want solely online on-demand programming, saying "the data does not suggest that people in mass want to do that."
Consumers may not be ready to switch off their televisions right now, but it is likely that they will at some point, and while Roberts may bristle at insinuations that Comcast is a dead duck now, if they don't actually succeed in making this consumer friendly, the company may be dead in the water soon.
Image: Brian Roberts, Comcast