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Comcast Signals It's Hip to the VOI Threat

By - September 25, 2004

comcast(Where VOI = Video Over Internet)…
Gary points us to a Journal piece (sub required) in which Comcast chief Brian Roberts has this to say:

We’re approaching seven million users on Comcast’s high speed Internet service… We also have video on-demand and a very exciting arrangement with Sony and MGM to get lots of movies and a deal with the NFL. In fact, we think eventually 10,000 hours will be available on demand. And if you then overlay that with access to the Internet, there is virtually unlimited content that consumers will be able to access on a television, a PC and perhaps on a mobile device. There is constantly going to be a need to make it easy for consumers to access what they want when they want it. Call it a search engine. Call it a portal. Call it an on-screen guide or navigation device.

Gary points out that Comcast is starting to think about search, and yes, that’s important in and of itself (caveat: I am not a fan of Comcast’s gatekeeper business model). What I find interesting is why they decided to think about search: they are seeing that soon the world will have PVR+Web-based delivery, and that means Comcast’s “we own the means by which video enters your home” model is hosed.

I’ve long fantasized about having a web-like search interface to video (who wouldn’t want to type “The Office” Season 2 into a Google video search, and get all the episodes listed, ready for download or drizzle?). But a Comcast version sounds, well, like a Comcast version. If they decide that those 7 million plus broadband users must play by Comcast’s rules when it comes to video, well, implosion ho!

Add to that the fact that others are competing on both sides of the equation: the RBOCs for the broadband pipe, the satellite guys for video, and this battle is shaping up very nicely. I spent a couple hours talking about this with David Dorman, the CEO of AT&T last month, and it was a revelation. The interview will be published soon, but I for one very much hope Comcast decides to play in search. The rules are different out here on the Web – and I hope they stay that way – you can’t control who uses you, or when. If you try, you lose.

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5 thoughts on “Comcast Signals It's Hip to the VOI Threat

  1. Tony Gentile says:

    Why do you say “implosion, ho”?

    Sure, I’d love to have all the necessary gear to do VOD via the Internet… but all the typical consumer is going to ask for near term is the ability to go to, pick what they want to see, and have it play on their TV within ~5 minutes.

    Sure, ideally, they could do that from /anyone’s/ video library, be it the big media houses or their cousin in Europe… but it’s 2004, and most American consumers are still figuring out that they can get DVDs in the mail next day, and think that’s aces compared to running out in the cold to BlockBuster…

    Like you, I’m frustrated by not having immediate access to a realistic and easily foreseeable future… but the masses move much more slowly…

  2. Fair comment, Tony. My thesis is, however, that the habits of search are starting to take root in the masses, and when they realize they are being offered crippled video search, and there is a better way, they’ll take it. (We just have to make sure there is a better way, of course).

  3. ID:entity says:

    So in summarising this post & discussion, I turn to the wisdom that is David Brent…

    “Accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.”

    I guess that’s what most Comcast customers will have to find out for themselves.

  4. From my experiences with Comcast, you are always the statue.

  5. Ramesh Jain says:

    Comcast is definitely trying to reinvent itself. In addition to buying the content, they are also enriching their Internet offerings by adding things like video mail and photo album.

    It will be interesting to see what they do because they have access to content, have pipes both cable and internet, and have deep pockets. They definitely are in a good position to do exciting thing. And Mr Roberts says in his interview that he wants to genetically rewire his company.