Even as a kid growing up in the 1980s, Comcast’s top multiplatform digital strategist, Matt Strauss, recalls having a fascination with being able to watch his favorite TV programs whenever he wanted. “When I was a kid, I used to record cartoons on the VCR,”he recalls. “I remember complaining to my parents that I shouldn’t have to wait to watch them on Saturday morning.”
Fast-forward to the present, and Strauss’ teams are now at the center of efforts to move that dream further into the digital age. As senior VP of digital and emerging platforms at Comcast Cable, Strauss spearheads the MSO’s multiplatform video strategy and is playing a major role in the industry’s efforts to fundamentally transform the ways people watch TV.
“Our goal has been to make everything available across every device,” he says.
Realizing that vision via TV Everywhere initiatives will be one of the hottest topics at the Cable Show 2013, taking place June 10-12 in Washington D.C.—both because of the huge opportunities it opens up for the cable industry and because of the daunting challenges that have slowed its progress.
Comcast’s efforts on a variety of issues related to technology, measurement, program rights and digital revenue have made Strauss’ work particularly notable. “Matt brings a rare combination of qualities to the table,” says Marcien Jenckes, senior VP and general manager of video services for Comcast Cable. “He not only has the strategic ability to see how customer behavior is evolving. He is also a very skilled operator who knows how to get very complicated things done. And he is trusted by the programmers.”
That expertise reflects a varied career that has spanned many of the key aspects of the business. “Even from a very young age, I knew I wanted to be in the TV business,” Strauss says. Strauss graduated from NYU in 1993 with a major in finance and marketing; many of his classmates headed to Wall Street, but he was determined to find a job at ABC.
It took six months of visiting and pestering before he was finally hired, landing a job at ABC News and then moving into strategic planning. That provided him with a detailed understanding of how the business worked, which in turn convinced him to move into the fast-growing cable sector.
While working at Cablevision and its Rainbow Networks (now AMC Networks), Strauss developed the idea for Mag Rack, one of the first national on-demand networks. Launched in 2001 when many operators didn’t offer VOD, Mag Rack was certainly way ahead of its time. But the experience “convinced me that this was the way people were going to be watching TV in the future,” Strauss recalls.
In 2004, he moved to Comcast, about a year after the MSO launched VOD. He worked on on-demand deals with programmers. “The challenge [Comcast had] was that on-demand was a little like a candy store without a lot of candy, because it was so new and the rights were just emerging,” Strauss says.
Strauss and Comcast worked to develop an ecosystem that would encourage programmers to make their content available. To help overcome fears that VOD would cannibalize linear TV ratings, he worked closely with Nielsen to develop ratings that would include VOD. Over time, Comcast also rolled out dynamic ad insertion capabilities across its entire footprint to better monetize on-demand content.
Today, Strauss notes that Comcast is approaching 30 billion VOD views. About 70% of Comcast customers use the traditional VOD platform each month, and most major network and cable content is available on-demand.
That history, Strauss adds, is important for the development of TV Everywhere, because operators and programmers need to work together to create a platform that will both please consumers and strengthen the business. To that end, Strauss worked closely with Nielsen to incorporate online viewing into TV ratings, and Comcast has been a major backer of efforts to include tablet ratings.
Strauss is no longer involved in negotiating programming deals, but Comcast’s efforts to offer programmers better ways to monetize their content on multiple platforms is paying off, Jenckes says. Most of the major programmers are now more willing to ink TV Everywhere deals. And some programmers, including Turner and Disney/ABC Television, have gone so far as to launch live streams of their channels on authenticated apps.
“We now have over 8 million unique visitors coming to the X"nity TV website each month, and the Xfinity TV app has been downloaded more than 10 million times,” Strauss says.
To further improve the offering, Strauss’ team is deploying new technologies to make it easier to sign into their TV Everywhere accounts; adding more live-channel feeds to the TV Everywhere offering of on-demand content; and forging alliances with consumer electronics manufacturers to help improve the way consumers can find and access content. “I really believe that 2013 is going to be the year of TV Everywhere,” Strauss says.
Outside of work, Strauss says his personal time is almost entirely devoted to his wife and four young sons. “On the weekends, you’ll often find me with my family on the baseball or soccer fields,” he says.
But even here, there are signs of his ondemand work. “When I come home at night, I’ll often see my four sons huddled together watching different videos on different devices,” Strauss says. “It’s really rewarding that I had a small hand in shaping what I think is going to be a fantastic future for consumers.”
E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter: @GeorgeWinslow
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