Matthew Strauss isn’t a household name in Hollywood yet. But he should be, and possibly will be soon. As Comcast Cable’s GM of Video Services, Strauss oversees the cable colossus’ Xfinity cloud-based X1 platform, video on demand, TV Everywhere, and — starting last year — sales of digitally downloadable movies and TV shows (known as Electronic Sell Through). In other words, he leads the cable industry’s counter-offensive as digital services led by Netflix and ad-zapping DVRs make inroads with pay TV consumers.
Studios and networks are taking notice, and striking deals with Strauss that push the boundaries of technology, and traditional business practices. For example, Comcast and FX have just begun to let VOD customers watch episodes of The Bridge a week before they appear on the channel itself. Deadline caught up with Strauss to find out the latest about that experiment and others that could reshape the medium. Here are his thoughts, edited for length and clarity.
DEADLINE: VOD has been one of Comcast’s top initiatives. Where do things stand?
STRAUSS: I have a long history with VOD. I’ve been working on this for almost 13 years now. About 70% of our digital subscribers use on demand every single month, and by the end of this year we’ll have 200,000 hours of on-demand content available. We surpassed our 30 billionth program viewed on demand last year. So this is something that has gone from almost an infancy, novelty kind of product and now is deeply entrenched. For the first time we now have the top 100 rated Nielsen shows … Read More »
Well, presumably, that little $45.2 billion merger with Time Warner Cable might also occupy some corporate attention, but Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said his company will focus on rolling out its prized X1 entertainment delivery platform and related Xfinity service. “Our priority this year is rolling out X1,” Roberts told attendees at the Code Conference today in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA. “It’s a game-changer, and the reason it’s such a game-changer is that we’re taking the guts of what we do and putting it in the cloud. The stinking cable box is the wrong platform. The moment we leave that box in your household, it begins to become obsolete.”
Related: Comcast’s Brian Roberts: It Was “Now or Never” on Time Warner Cable Deal
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Time Warner’s cable networks operation says that beginning this summer it will offer “complete current and previous seasons” of some of its original shows on a VOD basis to Comcast‘s Xfinity TV and digital platforms. The key to the deal: The cable company will offer dynamic ad insertion, which enables it and Turner to update and target commercial messages to particular viewers — a big selling point for networks in this upfront sales season. Fast forwarding will be disabled for most of the content, so viewers can’t speed through the ads.
“As viewing habits evolve, we continue to advance our advertiser offerings with stronger, more targeted products,” Turner Broadcasting Ad Sales President Donna Speciale says. “Through dynamic ad insertion, we now have a new source to swiftly integrate advertising creative in a highly sought after environment.”
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This is a big upgrade for Comcast subscribers who have Apple or Android mobile devices with the company’s Xfinity TV Go app — the new name for its Xfinity TV Player App. At some point over the next two weeks they’ll be able to stream about 35 channels and 25,000 VOD choices including when they’re away from home. In addition, Comcast says that thousands of movies and TV shows will be available to be downloaded. Cable and satellite companies consider out-of-home viewing to be a key feature for their TV Everywhere initiatives — but some programmers have insisted that they be paid extra for those rights. Channels available to mobile streamers will include BBC World News, beIN Sport, beIN Sport Español, Big Ten Network, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPNews, ESPNU, Fox Business Channel, Fox News Channel, Fox Sports 1, FX, FXX, Golf Channel, HLN, MSNBC, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo Wild, NBC Sports Network and Pac-12 Networks. “Television isn’t just about the living room anymore,” says Charlie Herrin, Comcast Cable’s SVP for Product Design and Development. There’s one quirk in the system, though: Streaming will be available via WiFi and Verizon Wireless’ broadband network — but not on AT&T, Sprint, or TMobile. The cable company and Verizon have an agreement to cross-promote each other’s services in markets where they don’t compete head-to-head.
Cine Sony Television, Sony Pictures Television’s network delivering content in Spanish, today announced a distribution pact with Comcast’s Xfinity TV cable service. Beginning today, Xfinity TV customers will have access to Cine Sony Television’s films, music and TV series, uncut and commercial free, in Spanish. Cine Sony Television is available on Xfinity’s Latino TV package, and select Cine Sony TV films will be available on Xfinity on Demand and online. Launched in August 2012, Cine Sony Television delivers films from Sony Pictures and other studios, as well as television series and music programming, and on-demand content, through its distribution partners, now including Comcast, Cox Communications and Verizon FiOS.
The new agreement expands on a deal Comcast had to show CBS programs on demand. The change will give the cable company’s Xfinity On Demand and Xfinity Streampix users opportunities to watch all past seasons of The Good Wife and WB’s Charmed. Those who want to skip the ads are out of luck: Comcast disables fast-forwarding for the broadcast content. The additional showings on Streampix “will enable more fans to catch up on past episodes” while giving CBS “yet another way to monetize our content.” says Scott Koondel, the network’s Chief Corporate Content Licensing Officer. But nothing is simple in deals that involve new platforms: Some CBS shows including 2 Broke Girls, Person Of Interest, The Mentalist, and newcomers The Crazy Ones and Mom will be available on VOD and at Xfinity.com, but not via Streampix. CBS will add shows “to provide viewers more opportunities to catch up,” the companies say.
The No. 1 cable company will flood its on-demand menu with children’s shows in July — part of an effort to demonstrate to parents that they don’t have to buy a streaming service from Netflix or Amazon to find programming that will keep kids occupied in front of the TV or a mobile device. The “Summer Of Kids” plan follows Comcast’s “Watchathon” event in March that highlighted the virtues of on-demand. In the new campaign, Comcast says it will offer content from “every major kids network and brand,” including more than 1,000 downloadable TV shows and films. In conjunction with the “Summer Of Kids” campaign, Comcast is introducing guides in collaboration with Common Sense Media to help families find age-appropriate fare. That should give parents “ultimate peace of mind for safer, smarter viewing across devices,” says Comcast Cable’s programming VP Maggie Suniewick. For the last two weeks of July the company will open its public WiFi hotspots to anyone, not just subscribers, although only Comcast customers can access the “Summer Of Kids” content. Shows to be showcased include Dora the Explorer, Angry Birds Toons, Sofia the First, Phineas and Ferb, Ben 10, Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, The Chica Show, Sid the Science Kid, Lazy Town, Pajanimals, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
Here you go, Xfinity TV customers who enjoy binge viewing: From March 25-31 the No. 1 cable operator will offer its “Xfinity Watchathon Week” with free VOD and streaming access to more than 3,500 episodes of 100 TV series across 30 premium, cable and broadcast networks. It’s “the biggest catch-up ever in TV history,” says Comcast Cable VP Video Services Maggie Suniewick. Series will include Downton Abbey, Game Of Thrones, Dexter, Girls, Spartacus, Duck Dynasty, Mad Men, Revolution, The Walking Dead, Touch, Chicago Fire, Psych, Parenthood, and The Americans. Comcast teased the event at an investment conference last week. The company is eager to promote its VOD library to viewers who like the flexibility they find with services such as Netflix to watch shows spontaneously, without having to pre-program a DVR. Comcast also wants to show networks that they can benefit from VOD; it supports Nielsen’s C3 ratings and Comcast sometimes disables fast-forwarding, which raises the number of viewers who see commercials. Premium channels also will be able to give non-subscribers a taste: Comcast says that Watchathon will offer “almost the entire on demand TV libraries” for HBO, Showtime, and Starz including The Sopranos, Sex And The City, and The Wire. Programs will be available at Xfinity.com/tv, the Xfinity TV Player App for Apple and Android devices, and Xfinity Streampix as well as the conventional VOD service for subscribers. Some shows won’t be available on all platforms, but Comcast says that in “virtually all cases” viewers can watch “regardless of [the] customer’s subscription level.” Comcast will introduce a Watchathon Week microsite to help customers find programming. It also will offer behind-the-scenes features and games. Read More »
The No. 1 cable company hopes to draw consumer attention to its broad VOD catalog late this month by offering shows from its broadcast, cable, and premium cable networks for free for a week, Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit told investors at Deutsche Bank’s Media, Internet & Telecom Conference in Florida. The company will call the event “Xfinity Watchathon.” Comcast has been eager to promote its VOD library to viewers who like the flexibility they find with services such as Netflix to watch shows spontaneously, without having to pre-program a DVR. Unlike other pay TV providers “we have all five (major broadcast) networks,” Smit says. Still, Comcast wants to gin up network enthusiasm by demonstrating that people watch more ads on VOD — where fast-forwarding usually is disabled — vs home DVRs. Meanwhile, Comcast plans to beef up the marketing effort behind its TV Everywhere streaming service. “I’d probably give us a ‘B’,” for the roll out so far, Smit says. “We have a lot of great content. Now it’s our job to leverage it.” Unlike other pay TV providers including Time Warner Cable and Dish Network, Comcast isn’t threatening to control programming costs by dropping little-watched networks. “Generally speaking, I’m looking at value as opposed to cutting costs on the programming side.”
The agreement will see Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand customers be able to watch the four most-recent episodes from CW series — including the programs the day after they air – on-demand for free. The deal, which takes effect tomorrow, marks the first time The CW has made its shows available on VOD via a multi-service operator. The series will be offered in HD and standard definition and include The Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, America’s Next Top Model, Hart of Dixie, 90210, Arrow, Nikita, Beauty & the Beast, Emily Owens, M.D. and Gossip Girl. Xfinity’s on-demand platform is in more than 20 million digital TV homes and gets almost 400 million views per month.
Comcast was careful to hide the price of its new Xfinity Platnum Internet service — which offers download speeds of up to 305 Mbps and upload speeds of 65 Mbps — in its press release today. But the company does boast that with the launch of its $299.95-a-month service it “continues to be a leader when it comes to delivering the fastest broadband speeds in the U.S.” Bloomberg reports the price point for speeds that eclipse the 300 Mbps service at rival Verizon’s FiOS, which offers that deal via a two-year contract at $204.99 a month. They both cater to households with massive usage on multiple devices, a segment the companies obviously believe will grow well beyond simply early adapters who are wired in 24/7. The new Xfinity offerings — it also announced free speed boosts for two of its existing tiers — will roll out first in select markets including Philadelphia, Boston, Washington D.C., and New Jersey. Customers also will get 24/7 tech support, a wireless gateway for WiFi connections, a dedicated Personal Communications consultant, and online protection services.
UPDATED: Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead says this is ”one of our most important announcements of the year.” The service will be in the market within a month, he told attendees at The Cable Show in Boston. It initially will be available to Verizon Wireless customers with 4G LTE Android devices, but other systems will be added “soon.” Comcast Xfinity is the first partner, Mead says. The company adds that Hulu Plus, mSpot and Netflix will also participate at launch, and Verizon FiOS is “expected to be added soon.” Consumers would use Viewdini to find entertainment available for their mobile device. “We’ve been working on this for a couple of years,” Mead says. “We saw the hunger of consumers to get this information,” he added calling Viewdini “a very simple consumer experience.”
Here’s the company’s release: Read More »
This is a subject that chills web video companies and customers — especially the day after Verizon Wireless announced that it will eliminate its unlimited data subscriptions for 4G customers. Comcast, the No. 1 broadband provider, said in a blog post that it’s “time to begin to move to a new plan” for its Internet service. As you might expect, the post clearly describes changes consumers might like, including one that raises the residential usage cap to 300 gigabytes a month from 250 GB. But the post is vague about potentially unpopular changes — leaving open the possibility that Comcast might dramatically raise the price users pay if they exceed the cap. Comcast says it must “address the realities of managing a network that services more than 20 million customers.” But Internet activists fear that a hefty new fee could deter consumers from subscribing to rival services such as Netflix which use a lot of bandwidth to stream movies and TV shows. The possible change “illustrates that Comcast is really trying to discourage subscribers from experimenting with online video alternatives,” Free Press Policy Adviser Joel Kelsey says. “We call on Comcast to drop the caps and these exorbitant overage fees entirely.” Read More »
Streampix will be added to Xfinity triple-play packages as well as separately for $4.99 a month as a subscription video-on-demand offering; the plan is to eventually make the service available on Xbox 360 and Android devices. It will feature shows like 30 Rock, Lost and Married … With Children as well as kids programming as part of new content licensing deals. Here’s the gist of the release:
PHILADELPHIA, PA – February 21, 2011 – Comcast today announced the launch of Xfinity Streampix™, a new subscription video service that enables Xfinity video customers to instantly view favorite movies and TV shows in and out of the home, including numerous past seasons of current hit shows and full series, to multiple screens and devices including TVs (as a subscription On Demand folder), online platforms and mobile devices. This new service complements the 75,000 TV shows and movies currently available on Xfinity On Demand, XfinityTV.com and through the Xfinity TV app. To launch Streampix, Comcast has entered into licensing agreements with leading movie studios and programming providers including Disney-ABC Television Group*, NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures, Warner Bros. Digital Distribution and Cookie Jar and built a line-up of top-rated content, which is available starting this week.
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