Comcast Hits 8 Million EBIF-Enabled Homes

Comcast has upgraded set-tops for 8 million digital cable subscribers to support the cable industry's Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) technology, which the operator has used to launch an interactive TV advertising service and HSN's Shop by Remote application.

The 8 million homes represent about 44% of Comcast's 18.0 million digital video customers nationwide (out of 23.8 million video customers total). CableLabs' EBIF spec is designed to let interactive applications run on low-powered set-top boxes.

The operator will top 10 million EBIF-enabled homes by very early 2010, according to James Mumma, Comcast's senior director of interactive TV product development.

Comcast is using the EBIF user agent developed by TVWorks, formerly a joint venture with Cox Communications that is now solely owned by Comcast. To date, the MSO has deployed EBIF user agents to Motorola set-tops; Comcast expects to begin rolling out EBIF user agents for Cisco boxes next year.

With the EBIF-enabled set-tops, Comcast is delivering a local "request for information" advertising service to let subscribers opt-in to receive free samples, coupons and services. Comcast Spotlight is selling the RFI service as an enhancement to local ad inventory.

Canoe Ventures, backed by Comcast and the five other largest U.S. operators, had previously planned to launch an RFI service across the six-member operators before the end of 2009. Cablevision Systems, a Canoe member, launched its own RFI service in September on a proprietary ITV platform.

In addition, Comcast's "remind-record" EBIF app lets subscribers set a reminder or schedule a recording directly from an ad promoting an upcoming TV show or series; Comcast Spotlight is selling that inventory as well.

Meanwhile, the HSN Shop by Remote application lets customers make purchases of products featured on the shopping network using their remote control, with an average purchase time of less than 60 seconds, according to Comcast. The interactive HSN service is also offered by Dish Network and Time Warner Cable's Oceanic division.

In a separate initiative, Comcast is upgrading Motorola set-tops to the i-Guide version A28 interactive program guide, which the MSO jointly develops with Rovi.

Key features of i-Guide A28 include Web-based DVR scheduling; "skip ahead/skip back" to fast-forward or rewind DVR recordings in five-minute increments; a new on-screen keyboard designed to make typing in searches faster; DVR folders that automatically group shows together; the ability to search and set recordings by actor, director or keyword, similar to TiVo's WishList; bulk deletion of recordings; and prompts for viewers who tune to a standard-definition channel to switch to an HD version if it's available.