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Comcast Steers Toward 1,000 HD 'Choices'

LAS VEGAS -- Comcast is reinforcing its video-on-demand strategy with plans to stock substantially more high-definition "choices" for customers in the coming year, as it tries to counter DirecTV's marketing focused on a 100-plus HD linear channel count.

The cable operator has set a target of providing more than 1,000 HD choices, which include linear channels and video-on-demand TV shows and movies, by the end of 2008. Previously it was aiming for about 800, up from the "hundreds" available at the end of 2007.

The announcement is expected to be part of Comcast CEO Brian Roberts' morning keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show here on Tuesday. The operator's Project Infinity strategy emphasizes rapidly building out its available on-demand content, both on cable VOD and online at Fancast.com, which Comcast is officially launching this week.

For example, Comcast is planning to boost the movies available on-demand from 1,300 per month today to more than 6,000 movies per month in 2009, with more than 3,000 of those available in HD.

Is Comcast concentrating on HD VOD only because it lacks the capability to deliver a linear HD channel lineup on par with DirecTV's current tally of 85-plus and Dish Networks' 70-plus? Not according to Derek Harrar, Comcast senior vice president and general manager of video services: "We have clear consumer evidence that people love on-demand."

Harrar noted that Comcast has served more than 6 billion on-demand videos since 2003. Comcast customers are requesting 100 views per second, he said. DirecTV lacks the ability to offer a similar video-on-demand service, he added.

Comcast's Fancast.com, meanwhile, is designed to let users find, manage and watch TV shows and movies, whether they're on broadcast channels, VOD, in movie theaters or available on DVD. Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media, said the site comprises 11 million pages of information, including details on more than 50,000 television shows, 80,000 movies and 1.2 million people.

Fancast also provides 3,000 hours of long-form video, movie trailers, short videos and other content from CBS, NBC and Fox (provided via their Hulu joint venture), MTV Networks, BET Networks and others.

Comcast is planning to add more content over the course of the year, including professional reviews and peer reviews. "There's a real push to amass as much on-demand content as possible," Banse said.

Fancast users need not be Comcast customers, and Banse said the company is in discussions with other cable operators about tailoring the site's features for their subscribers.

Also in store for 2008 on Fancast: the ability to set digital video recorder settings from the site, for either Comcast or TiVo DVRs. "We realize that's something people really want to be able to do with this," said Banse.

Down the road, Comcast expects to migrate video-navigation features from Fancast to the interactive program guide that runs on its cable set-tops. For example, the "Six Degrees" feature of the Web site, which allows users to visually browse through related movies and actors, is to be included in the next generation of Comcast's on-screen guide, set for deployment in the first quarter of 2009.

Finally, Comcast will announce that it has surpassed 4 million digital voice subscribers at the end of 2007, which now makes it the fourth-largest phone company in the U.S. after AT&T, Verizon and Qwest. That means the cable operator more than doubled its digital voice subscribers last year, up from 1.8 million at the end of 2006.

In 2008 Comcast expects to roll out "universal caller ID," which provides caller pop-up information on customers’ TVs and PCs, after testing out the feature with customers in parts of New Jersey.