Comcast: ITV Ready For 50 Networks Later This Year

Comcast is aiming to have the ability to deliver interactive TV applications from as many as 50 networks in the second half of 2010 across more than 12 million households, said senior vice president of video development Todd Walker.

Moreover, according to Walker, Canoe Ventures -- the advanced-advertising joint venture of the U.S.'s six biggest MSOs -- is in the process of figuring out how to extend interactive capabilities to broadcast networks.

"Canoe is meeting with the broadcast networks. We have to figure it out for this to be successful," said Walker, speaking at an interactive TV event held by the New York chapter of the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing. "Work has already begun to figure out how to get it through all the affiliates and all the technical hurdles out there for broadcast channels to support this."

Canoe is expecting to launch a request for information advertising service nationwide in the second quarter of 2010 in conjunction with one cable network.

Initially, though, Comcast and other cable operators will be focused on enabling ITV applications with cable programmers.

HSN is Comcast's charter network partner for ITV. The channel's Shop by Remote is currently available to 12 million Comcast subscribers and the app -- which lets viewers buy the current item being offered for sale -- has a 10% sales-conversion rate, Walker said. With the HSN Shop by Remote app on Comcast, the shopping channel also has signed up 1,200 new subscribers who had never bought anything from HSN before.

To date, Comcast has deployed user agents for CableLabs' Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) to 19 million Motorola set-top boxes. That represents about 85% of the cable operator's Motorola footprint, and Comcast is shooting to get all Motorola set-tops enabled by midyear, Walker said.

In the back half of 2010, Comcast's goal is to "enable 50 networks to deploy interactivity when they choose to do so," Walker said. To get there, Comcast will be engaged in "pipe cleaning" re-engineering processes, to be able to accommodate the additional bandwidth needs of EBIF apps.

"We just don't have the bandwidth to deploy a lot of different applications," Walker said. "[Satellite] transponders don't have enough bandwidth to carry these applications today."

In another phase of Comcast's EBIF rollout, the MSO is working with ITV development firm Itaas to port the EBIF user agent to Cisco Systems set-tops. That agent should be ready to deploy by late 2010 or early 2011, Walker said.

Also in 2010, Comcast plans to roll out "instant info" widgets that provide news, weather, sports, traffic and horoscopes. "It's like FiOS [TV] but we think it looks a little better," Walker said. Those widgets, however, will be deployed only to "advanced" boxes, which exclude the installed base of Motorola DCT 2000s.

Time Warner Cable, meanwhile, has rolled out EBIF to 900,000 households in its New York City system and plans to ramp up that base nationwide this year, said Brian Kline, vice president of technology policy and product development.

"We share a vision [with Comcast] of how this technology rolls out and what it looks like to consumers," he said.

Walker noted that the cable industry doesn't always "move as quickly as we'd like." But he said Comcast's EBIF rollout has been perhaps the fastest cable-technology deployment he's ever seen.

"We see it as a major competitive advantage... to offer this type of service," Walker said.