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Comcast Tightens Its Cloud Embrace

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Cable Show -- Continuing to dominate the news front here, Comcast Corp. said it intends to launch two cloud-based IP video services later this year, including a cloud DVR service. Executives unveiled their ambitious plans in press conferences and presentations here Tuesday. The new services are part of the company's extensive efforts to keep more video subscribers from cutting the subscription cord and to appeal to younger, Web-savvy consumers who might never sign up for traditional pay-TV packages. As expected, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts kicked off the news announcements in the morning by introducing X2, the MSO's latest cloud-based user interface for set-top boxes, tablets, smartphones and other IP-connected connected devices, at a conference general session. Doing his best buttoned-down impression of the late Steve Jobs' showmanship style, Roberts clicked, swiped, gestured and talked his way through an advanced platform that features snazzy new personalization features, navigation guides and search recommendation engines for every video-enabled screen imaginable. "If you don't have your products on every platform, you're missing a whole generation," Roberts declared. "The winners are companies who can integrate across all devices and platforms with an interface that's fun and easy to use." Roberts contended that the new, more personalized X2 guide will let viewers more easily find the programming they want, whether it's live TV shows, content recorded to the DVR or on-demand programming. "It's about personalization and getting you there faster," he said. "The whole look and feel is to be easy, personable, fast and fun. And I think we're just scratching the surface." The cloud-based interface also features a new voice-based search capability that will be part of a new remote control. Noting that 60 million Americans, or about 20 percent of the nation's population, have some type of disability, Roberts said Comcast officials see voice commands as a key part of the X2 interface. "Accessibility is a new category for us and a real differentiator," he said. "What we found is that the more complex the search, the more we want to go to voice." Further, the new X2 platform will let Comcast bring Web video content to the cable set-top box for the first time. X2 is an updated version of the MSO's X1 platform, which Roberts introduced at Boston's Cable Show last spring. Comcast has now rolled out that first-generation cloud-based user interface to more than a dozen U.S. markets, primarily targeting new triple-play customers. Comcast announced three more X1 market launches on Monday, extending the service to cable systems in Illinois, northwest Indiana and southwest Michigan. Roberts said Comcast will start deploying it this fall. He didn't spell out how or where the MSO plans to launch the service. Comcast executives are counting on their new, cloud-based software approach to produce greater innovation and accelerate the development of new video services, features and applications. Roberts said this new approach has already permitted Comcast to make 1,200 updates to its platform over the past 12 months. Roberts also boasted that Comcast has processed 30 billion VoD orders over the on-demand service's 10-year life span. He said the MSO now averages 40 million on-demand sessions a month and offers about 40,000 movies and TV shows to subscribers. In addition, Roberts provided a sneak peek of the Xi3, an upcoming, all-IP HD set-top box that he said will process signals four times faster than a traditional set-top while consuming one-third the space and half the energy. DVRs get cloudy
About two hours after Roberts' presentation ended, Comcast officials announced their plans for the Cloud DVR service and began demonstrating it at their large booth on the expo floor. They intend to launch the service to X1 and X2 subscribers in a few select markets later this year after testing it out in the Boston and Philadelphia areas. As described by Comcast executives, the Cloud DVR service sounds like it will work something like Cablevision Systems's remote-storage DVR. Similar to the Cablevision product, which is fully deployed throughout Cablevision's metro New York footprint, the Comcast service will create copies of each subscriber's recorded shows and then make those copies available over cable set-top boxes, tablets, smartphones and other video devices. In an interesting multi-screen twist, the new Comcast DVR service will offer a sync-and-go/check-out capability, so subscribers can view a recorded program on a connected device. That copy of the program, available for 30 days, will not be accessible on any other device. No pricing plans for the service were disclosed. At their booth, Comcast officials also demonstrated a new live-TV streaming service for cable set-top boxes and other devices equipped with X2 software. But they said the new streaming feature will be limited to viewing inside the home, at least for the time being. — Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading
gconnery 6/14/2013 | 4:35:46 PM
re: Comcast Tightens Its Cloud Embrace So lets run the numbers. In the most recent quarter Comcast gained 200,000 phone customers. Lets assume ALL of those are triple play customers. They've rolled out the X1 to what 12 of 80 markets in the last year? Let's call that 1/8th of their customers. Assume Comcast added 800,000 triple play customers in the last year. 1/8th of that is 100,000. So the MOST customers there might be running X1 right now is 100,000. Out of maybe 23 Million? Meaning something like 0.4% of their customers are running X1 a year after it was introduced.

I suspect the reality is even lower. Lets keep this in perspective.
craigleddy 6/13/2013 | 2:29:40 PM
re: Comcast Tightens Its Cloud Embrace I discussed this possibility at the Comcast booth and the answer I received essentially was "too early to tell." Sounds like first they're focused on deploying X1 and prepping X2.

That said, Comcast has a new Comcast Wholesale division and the Comcast Media Center has a national distribution system for HITS and other services for smaller operators. So it's no stretch to think that they could offer an X guide platform. The other part of the equation is how quickly small operators will be prepared to use a cloud-based IPG platform.
cypherstream 6/12/2013 | 8:22:18 PM
re: Comcast Tightens Its Cloud Embrace Does anyone know if Comcast will license the X1 and / or X2 platform technology to other cable operators? They could potentially open up another revenue stream by signing smaller cable operators to utilize the platform as a SaaS (Software as a Service). They could compete in a market against Rovi, Tivo, Arris, and others. The ability to bring this flexible system to smaller operators (hosted SaaS or in house design) would benefit operators and Comcast alike, since Comcast traditionally does not compete with other cable operators with the exception of some small overbuilt area's (RCN comes to mind).

I know that there are ACA members who would be interested in offering this service to stay relevant and current with today's generation, but they do not have the resources to design something from the ground up as elaborate as Comcast has proven with X1 (and now upcoming X2).
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