Comcast Preps Electronic Video Store

Comcast is preparing to launch a video store that will sell movies and prior seasons of some TV series in the electronic sell-through (EST) window directly to customers via the Web and set-top boxes, enabling the operator to join an already crowded field that includes Apple iTunes, Vudu, Amazon, M-GO and, most recently, Target Ticket, a source familiar with the plan confirmed.

A precise launch date is not known, but the source confirmed reports by Reuters and The Wall Street Journal that Comcast intends to launch the product before the end of the year.

The new electronic sell-through option would bring a complementary, direct sales component to Comcast’s traditional video-on-demand (VoD) platform, which is already averaging 400 million views per month. And it would also give studios another digital sales channel as DVD and Blu-ray sales continue to decline.

According to a person familiar with Comcast’s plan, the operator will offer an initial slate of new movie releases and past seasons of currently airing TV shows. Comcast’s initial EST studio and content partners are not yet known,  but the number of titles offered through the new electronic sales system is expected to grow over time as more partners join, the source said.

Comcast will allow customers to buy titles directly on the set-top box and have those purchases applied to their cable bills. Customers will also have the option to purchase titles on the Web using credit cards. Comcast, the source added, initially will not enable customers to purchase titles via the MSO’s mobile apps, but customers will be able to use those apps to playback purchased movies and TV shows.

With the coming launch, Comcast is poised to be the first incumbent U.S. cable operator to offer its own EST product. Verizon Communications currently offers an EST service called “Flex View” that lets customers buy or rent titles and play them back on set-tops and mobile, IP-connected devices.

A source said the initial version of Comcast’s electronic video store product will not be integrated with UltraViolet, a consortium that has developed a secure platform that lets consumers purchase content from a “digital locker” and access those titles on a broad array of devices, including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones

That may change later, as Comcast is a founding member the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) and a member of UltraViolet. Other UltraViolet Alliance members from the pay-TV crowd include Cox Communications, AT&T, Rogers Communications, and Verizon Communications.

More cable operators are expected to develop EST products.

Some of the technical underpinnings of such an offering are tied to In Demand’s terrestrial IP upgrade, which will enable the VOD and pay-per-view aggregator to support a broader multiscreen strategy and help its partners sell and rent movies to those devices.

In Demand, which is upgrading to IP in tandem with Clearleap, is owned by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications and Bright House Networks, and today distributes about 4,000 hours of transactional, subscription and ad-supported, free VOD content per month.

Last month, In Demand told Multichannel News that the initial focus of the upgraded system will be for VOD titles that are tagged for set-top boxes, while also putting its partners in position to sell movies directly to customers. In Demand also confirmed that it will support UltraViolet.