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OTT

Comcast's Over-the-Top Dilemma

NEW YORK –- The SeaChange International Summit -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) executives are talking about the possibility of using Internet video to sell programming to subscribers outside its cable footprint, VP of Advanced Business and Technology Development Mark Hess said here Wednesday.

But talking about doing something and actually doing it are two entirely different things, of course.

Hess suggested there are competing forces at Comcast that could influence its decision on whether or not to go out-of-network to sell video service subscriptions in territories controlled by fellow cable MSOs such as Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cox Communications Inc. and Charter Communications Inc.

While its programming arm, which now includes NBCUniversal LLC , could benefit from an over-the-top (OTT) play, Comcast's cable operation is focused on selling a triple play of video, high-speed data and voice to subscribers within its own franchise areas, he said.

"As a content company, we think about it," Hess said. "It's something we talk about at meetings." (See Boxee, Roku Predict Pay TV's Transformation.)

Figuring out how pay-TV providers can boost revenue through OTT video was a key topic of debate at a conference put on by video tech vendor SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC). Hess was joined by execs from Orange (NYSE: FTE), TTNET Turk Telekom, Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) and Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY).

France Telecom is looking at how it can distribute OTT video, said Martin Conan, head of display delivery devices. "We are thinking about deploying a new service, perhaps different than our way of doing things," he added.

Liberty Global VP of Technology Bill Warga said the company's UPC Broadband division is experimenting with OTT video, and plans to deploy a "hybrid gateway set-top box with DLNA [Digital Living Network Alliance] capability." (See Liberty Global Reveals IP Gateway Partners.)

Vodafone sees OTT video as a way to "drive people to higher levels of bandwidth," said Christine Mitchell, group head of video content.

Also worth noting from the panel:

  • Comcast is beginning to use dynamic ad-insertion technology to add pre-roll, mid-roll and-post roll ads to video-on-demand (VoD) programming. "We're at the cave-drawing stage of VoD advertising," Hess added. (See Cable Project Tries to Jolt VoD Advertising .)

  • Hess said Comcast believes it has the rights to stream live video programming to Apple's iPad and other mobile devices to subscribers within their homes, but that it's important for the networks to be able to measure viewing on mobile device. "The consumers' desire to have all this content on any device they want -- especially a personal device -- is going to win the day," Hess said. (See Comcast Keeps Eye on the iPad Prize.)

  • The panelists were bullish on the prospects for UltraViolet, the digital rights locker that could allow consumers to purchase a DVD or video-on-demand movie, and access the video on any platform.

    "The digital rights locker is better than everyone walking around with Slingboxes all the time, trying to get connected up, and eating up our upstream bandwidth, trying to get to the content sitting in their homes," Warga said. (See UltraViolet to Open its Rights Locker in Mid-2011 .)

    — Steve Donohue, Special to Light Reading Cable

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