Will Comcast Go You-Tubing?

In case you missed the scuttlebutt, Comcast is reportedly working on an online video service that will compete with YouTube and offer access to gobs of video goodness on the usual suspects (tablets, smartphones, PCs) as well as the set-top box, according to The Information

How far along that project is and precisely how it will match up with YouTube isn’t known yet, but a person familiar with the idea said Comcast is indeed interested in developing a YouTube-like service, but also confided that the MSO is not all that close to pulling the trigger on a test.

But it’s clear that Comcast has started to build up a stock of YouTube’ish content along with the technical means to deliver niche online video “channels” and a cloud-based video pipeline and architecture that could support storage and playback to myriad platforms.

On the content end, Comcast has been distributing non-linear fare for years with partners such as Concert TV, Havoc, The Jewish Channel, Kabillion, Kids Flicks, Shalom TV, Ski Channel and Sportskool, to name a few.

Update: Reelz Channel was originally mentioned in this group, but the programmer notes that it enjoys both linear and on-demand distribution with Comcast.

To complement its dynamic ad insertion platform for the set-top (via Black Arrow), Comcast just locked in the online side of that equation with the acquisition of FreeWheel. The initial set of boxes powering the X1 platform can speak both QAM and IP, and has already shown off some of its set-top streaming chops with its integration of the NBC Sports Live Extra app for the Sochi Games.

While that can all factor in for ad-supported online channels and perhaps subscription-based niche channels, Comcast has also hinted that its video storage and distribution pipeline has built in efficiencies that could help it support “personal recordings and personal media," perhaps like this.

VIPER, Comcast’s home-grown IP video pipeline for VOD and live streaming, uses a just-in-time-packaging (JITP) system that allows Comcast to store content in a common media format that can package up adaptive bit rate streams in the right device format and resolution on the fly. This way, Comcast can support a bunch of devices without having to create and store dozens of different versions of those video files.

“That materially helps the economics of storage, especially when you get into personal recordings,” Comcast senior VP and chief software architect Sree Kotay said in an interview last year about VIPER.

That’s not an announcement for some sort of YouTube-like service, of course, and in fact it's likely more a reference to Comcast's new cloud DVR product. But it sheds light on how Comcast is thinking about its video distribution platform and how it might use it.

So the technical pieces of the puzzle appear to be in place, should Comcast decide to launch a YouTube of its own. How and when Comcast should go after YouTube’s dominant position in that part of the online video market is a business riddle that will need to be solved.