Comcast Readies iPad Video Streaming

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is close to introducing an app that will let Xfinity TV customers stream movies and TV shows to the iPad.

The app, called Play Now, will be available in the "coming weeks," Comcast president Neil Smit said today at a UBS AG conference in New York City.

Smit, who joined Comcast from Charter Communications Inc. in March, said Play Now will first work with premium networks such as HBO, Starz, and Showtime. The MSO is working out the rights with other networks.

Will Comcast eventually make all its video content available this way? "That's our plan," he said, without providing any time line.

As a component to the MSO's TV Everywhere strategy, Play Now represents an upgrade for an app Comcast launched last month that lets customers use their iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches like fancy remote controls to find linear and on-demand content and even change channels on the set-top using Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF). Smit says the app has already been downloaded more than 350,000 times. (See Comcast Invades the iPad .)

It seems likely that Play Now will draw from the 150,000 video items on the TV Online portal, which Comcast launched just a few months ago. By comparison, Comcast's set-top-based VoD service offers about 25,000 titles. (See Comcast's TV Everywhere Play Breaks Out of Beta .)

These moves are all viewed as a defense against cord cutting, although Smit said Comcast has seen no real evidence of such a trend. Most video subscriber losses have been due to people rolling off of promotional rates and churning to competitors, with a "small trace" leaving to go with free over-the-air TV, he said.

Comcast is battling the effects of a bad economy with a "digital economy" tier comprised of 50 standard-definition and 25 high-definition channels that sells for $39.99 a month as a standalone, or $29.99 when bundled with another Comcast service.

Smit also downplayed the notion that Comcast would soon go over-the-top itself and seek growth by selling video subscriptions outside its regular footprint. But the technology is there to do it. (See Comcast Forges 'Excalibur' for IPTV.)

"Most of our programming rights are for access within our footprint," Smit said.

Despite the growth of over-the-top video within Comcast's footprint, don't expect the MSO to start a metered broadband regime, despite the window of opportunity that now appears open due to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's newly proposed net neutrality rules. (See Net Neutrality Sweep: Everyone's Ticked.)

"We'll manage our networks as appropriate. Right now we don't have plans in place to activate usage-based pricing," Smit said, noting that less than 1 percent of cable modem subscribers breach the company's monthly 250GB excessive use policy. (See Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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