Building a Bigger Cloud

Along with Cablevision, Comcast has emerged as a vocal proponent of cloud DVRs. “As good as people think the DVR is, cloud DVR really uncovers how much better it could be,” Matthew Strauss, executive VP and GM of video services for Comcast Cable, says. Here’s how he explains the company’s strategy:

NTV: How far along in are you in terms of the footprint for cloud DVR deployments and where might be by end of the year?

Matthew Strauss: About 70% of our footprint has now been enabled with cloud, where we are offering both the cloud DVR and the in-home streaming across all devices. We look to get close to 100% by the end of the year.

NTV: What are some of the advantages of cloud DVRs?

MS: I would take a step back from that. What we are doing is moving more and more toward a cloud-based infrastructure to enable a whole new level of innovation.

Over the past few years it has allowed us to bring us to bring several new products to the market. [In addition to the cloud DVR], it is certainly the underpinning to our X1 platform, which has a cloud-based guide and gives us the ability to offer a much richer user experience.

The other product that we have introduced from the cloud is this notion of transforming other devices in your home into a TV. It means that your computer or your phone or tablet can access not just some of the linear networks or some of the on demand content. They have access to everything.

NTV: A number of people would also argue that cloud DVRs open up opportunities for strengthening the ad model with dynamic ad insertion or even disabling the fast forward feature. How do you see that?

MS: When you look at the DVR — whether it is cloud DVR or traditional DVR — those are both user initiated and managed platforms. So the advertising on the DVR is the advertising that was exhibited in the initial linear content airing and the fast-forward is obviously enabled, as are all the trick modes.

When you look at the on-demand platform, which is a managed platform, we have introduced things like dynamic ad insertion and disabling of fast forwarding, as well as Nielsen and Rentrak measurement.

What is interesting — and may seem counterintuitive — is that X1 subscribers that have DVRs are in many cases are the heaviest on demand user. We are finding that people use both DVRs and on demand collaboratively.

The DVR tends to be more intent driven — I like this show and will set my DVR to record it — while on demand seems to be evolving more towards a place of discovery and finding new shows.

So, in many ways these platforms are working in tandem and the lines between content that is on DVR versus content that is on demand are blurring.

We’re trying to make it easier and easier for customers to find right choices. But we are not looking to change the functionality of the DVR now that it is in the cloud. The advertising and trick modes effectively are same in the cloud as they were in the traditional DVR.

NTV: How do you see the interrelationships the cloud DVR, your TV everywhere offerings and the X1 platform fitting together?

MS: I think as audiences get more and more fragmented, TV has in some ways become a siloed experience.

You have video that is being consumed live, you have video that is being consumed on a DVR, you have video that is being consumed on demand, you have video that is being consumed through apps and then you have different set of content available depending on whether you are in your home or out of home.

That has made TV better in the sense that we can watch what we want when we want it. But it is still become a fairly siloed and fragmented experience.

When we look at X1 and the cloud, you have a user interface that allows those lines to be blurred. Whether the content is coming from one platform or another should almost become irrelevant. It is just a matter of presenting the right choice to the right customer.

That is directionally what we think is the promise of X1. When you have all these different content sets available, we want to remove any friction to the customer. They shouldn’t need to know or care where the content is coming from. It is just about facilitating the ability for consumers to get the right choice when they want it.

And I think that is what you are seeing happen. We are able to aggregate and offer all these diff types of content through a very seamless and unified experience.

The DVR is a fairly primitive product that has a very passionate group of users. People who have a DVR, typically have very low churn. People love their DVR. It is a very personalized device and it is certainly has been a transformative product for many customers.

What is so exciting about cloud DVR is that as good as people think the DVR is, cloud DVR really uncovers how much better it could be.

When you look some of the areas like the ability to unshackle your DVR from the television and stream your DVR recording on mobile devices or even download DVR recording and take with you on the go, those are realizations we have been able to bring to market with cloud DVR. It highlights the type of innovation that we are bringing to what people already thought of as a fantastic product. Using cloud tech, we believe we are finding ways to make even better. It is an opportunity to rethink the DVR. 

The other thing worth highlighting is that this cloud infrastructure, which has allowed us to introduce the X1 and cloud DVR and in home streaming, also allow us to bring other features to market like instant on demand. What I mean by that is that we are testing the ability to allow a customer to watch a show on demand almost immediately after it starts airing.

If it starts airing at 9 p.m., historically you would have to wait until you would have to wait to watch it until the next day to watch it on demand. But in a few of our market, we are testing the ability to allow consumers to watch that show from the beginning on demand a few minutes after it started air.

The fast-forward is disabled, which how on demand is works for some content. But it is collapsing the window of how quickly the content is being made available. While that is not cloud DVR, it is utilizing the same cloud infrastructure. It is another example of how this cloud infrastructure will allow us to continue to innovate and bring other products and features to market.