Roberts High on VOD

New York -- Comcast Corp. chairman and CEO Brian Roberts extolled the virtues of video-on-demand at an industry conference here Monday, telling the audience he expects his customers to download about 1 billion television shows next year.

Speaking at the Independent Research Group TV On-Demand Summit conference, Roberts said users are already downloading about 50 million VOD programs per month in Comcast systems.

“Next year -- and this is an aggressive prediction -- I think we will do a billion television shows to our customers that will not be watched live,” Roberts said at the conference.

Roberts said adding to the success of the service will be new free-VOD programming being made available to customers, such as a recent deal with digital-music service Music Choice that will allow Comcast customers to download music videos and create their own video jukeboxes.

Roberts said about 500 videos were currently available on the Music Choice VOD service.

Comcast has about 1,000 television shows -- rising to 3,000 by the end of the year -- available on its free-VOD service. He expects viewers to have about 4,000 VOD choices by next year, fueled largely by library content from Sony Corp. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. studios. Comcast was part of a consortium led by Sony earlier this year that agreed to purchase MGM for about $4.5 billion.

While Comcast has been a leader on the VOD front, Roberts said the reason why the MSO has not taken a similar position in cable telephony is that its approach to telephony is different than those of its peers.

He added that Comcast’s voice-over-Internet-protocol system should be 100% built by mid-2005. The MSO is already testing the VoIP service in three markets.

Roberts said Comcast’s VoIP plan is to deliver calls from the customer home via cable lines to the MSO’s switching office and back over a private network to the call’s recipient. Comcast VoIP will not be transmitted over the Internet.

“The idea is that we’re going to offer an LEC-like [local-exchange carrier] service with complete powering,” he added. “That’s why it’s taking us a little longer.”