Comcast's Pay-TV Online Test: Gaps In the Lineup

Yes, Comcast is in the first inning of On Demand Online, described as a “trial” that is just getting underway.

But the content roster, even at this early stage, has some pretty big gaps.

That the MSO already has lined up the participation of 23 networks — including CBS, HBO, Starz, TNT and TBS, Food Network, History Channel and others — reflects pent-up interest among programmers for the concept. They want to deliver as much video online as they possibly can, to reinforce their TV franchises and/or increase ad impressions. But they must do it in a way that does not kill the golden goose (or insert your own metaphor): affiliate fees paid, ultimately, by TV subscribers.

Some of the biggest networks, though, are still sitting out.

There’s been silence about the participation of the following: Viacom’s MTV Networks (Nickelodeon, MTV, Comedy Central); Discovery Communications (Discovery Channel, TLC); NBC Universal (USA Network, Bravo, Syfy); News Corp.’s Fox (FX, NatGeo); and Disney/ABC Television Group (Disney Channel, ABC Family).

Then there’s ESPN, but rights associated with live sports on the Web is a different animal. MLB, for example, believes it can charge a premium for live game broadcasts on the Internet, above and beyond what viewers already pay for cable TV. (See Promos Pitch Local Broadband Yankees Package and Cox, Padres Join MLBAM’s Local Market Streaming Team.)

In a recent survey of 500 Comcast and Time Warner Cable customers about “TV Everywhere” services, the top 10 networks requested for such a service were, in order of preference: ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, ESPN, HBO, CNN, Discovery, History and Syfy (see Most Cable Customers Give ‘TV Everywhere’ Thumbs Up: Survey). Currently, only three of those — CBS, HBO and History — are in Comcast’s On Demand Online lineup.

OK, you might say, but didn’t Comcast just announce this whole plan with Time Warner Inc. less than a month ago? Yeah, but Comcast has been in talks with programmers since at least late 2008 about the concept (see Ops Seek Rights to ‘Place-Shift’).

Comcast clearly has demonstrated momentum. But the content bouquet hasn’t hit critical mass — The Closer, The Sopranos, Mad Men and Ice Road Truckers are a good start, but what about episodes of WWE Monday Raw, Colbert Report, iCarly, Mythbusters, theHigh School Musical movies or Shark Week? (Note that some NBCU shows, like USA’s Royal Pains and Burn Notice, are currently available to anyone through Fancast.)

In some households (ahem, mine) Nickelodeon’s Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! and Disney’s Special Agent Oso currently are a must-have.

Overall it feels like Viacom, Discovery, NBCU, Disney, et al. are waiting to see how the first inning goes before they get in the game.