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500 HD Choices, Comcast Declares

At the National Cable and Telecommunications (NCTA) convention last week in New Orleans, Comcast boasted it is now providing 500 on-demand programming choices in HD, including movies and TV shows from Starz and Showtime. The announcement shows that the nation's largest cable operator is following through on the "Project Infinity" initiative to dramatically expand its on-demand offerings, which it unveiled at January's 2008 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Comcast plans to have 1,000 HD choices available by year-end, which should keep it competitive with the growing lineup of linear HD channels offered by DirecTV, says Stephen Burke, Comcast's chief operating officer.

But according to Burke and other top cable executives speaking at a session, cable operators are still in the very early stages of exploiting the on-demand platform to generate new revenues and fight subscriber churn to satellite and telco competitors.

Comcast is also exploring the "Start Over" and "Look Back" applications pioneered by Time Warner Cable, which allow cable subscribers to apply digital-video-recorder-like functionality to primetime content without having to plan ahead.

Tom Rutledge, COO for Cablevision Systems, is also excited about new applications for VOD such as targeted ads and electronic sell-through, but he said the cable industry shouldn't forget the fundamental value of VOD—that satellite competitors can't do it.