TWC Deal Might Alter Comcast X1 Licensing

Comcast’s plans to license its X1 platform to other operators could slow down considerably or be placed on the shelf indefinitely amid its proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, industry sources said.

A going-forward plan is still in discussions and nothing final has been decided, but a source said factions within the operator are mulling several possibilities as the TWC merger comes up for regulatory review. Options include: a plan to keep the status quo and continue to explore X1 licensing deals, shelving the idea altogether or offering not to extend the technology beyond the merger footprint as a condition of the deal.

A person familiar with the X1 licensing plan said one goal is to provide new avenues for the technology, services and applications X1 is capable of supporting while also offsetting some of the development costs. Such licensing deals would also help to expand the reach of the Reference Design Kit, the integrated software stack for hybrid and Internet protocolonly set-tops and gateways that is currently being managed by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. Liberty Global has also become a member of RDK Management LLC.

Comcast has been up front about its intention to license X1 to other operators, an idea that originated well before the TWC deal was announced. Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts first told Multichannel News last fall that the operator was pursuing an X1 licensing strategy.

Speaking on Comcast’s fourth-quarter call in January, cable unit president and CEO Neil Smit confirmed that Comcast and Cox Communications were in X1 licensing talks. At the time, Cox said it was assessing X1 among other options as it looks to “respond to a quickly-evolving video landscape.”

No such deal appears to be imminent, as any licensing agreement would involve high levels of complexity, including significant back-office systems work. One industry source said Cox currently has “no appetite to do a new guide,” given that it has already invested in and deployed its Contour interface and navigation system for souped-up whole-home DVRs and tablets. Cox, though, acknowledged that it is evaluating the RDK.

In an earlier interview with Multichannel News, Rich Fickle, the president and CEO of the National Cable Television Cooperative, characterized X1 licensing talks with his organization as “informal.”

A Comcast spokesman said the company had no further comments to make about its X1 licensing plans.

But if expanding the scale of X1 remains a key longer-term goal for Comcast, seeking organic growth through licensing could become less important if the operator successfully acquires TWC. Even with its agreement to divest about 3 million TWC customers as part of the deal, Comcast would be in position to expand the X1 platform into several new major markets.

In the meantime, Comcast has already deployed X1 to its entire current footprint and recently introduced an upgraded version of the interface that includes more personalized features.