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Comcast's 'Xfinity' to Go Mobile in 2010

The broadband-connected PC is the device of choice for the initial, national rollout of Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s new TV Everywhere-esque service, but MSO officials stressed that extending access to that offering, now dubbed "Fancast Xfinity TV," to mobile devices is on the roadmap for 2010. (See Comcast's 'Xfinity' Goes Live .)

"We do have our eye on mobile... and hope to address it over the next year," Amy Banse, president of the MSO's Comcast Interactive Media (CIM) division, said on a call with reporters earlier today.

At the start, however, Comcast is limiting access to the premium Xfinity lineup to PCs (up to three devices per customer can be authorized) and to MSO customers who take Comcast's TV and high-speed Internet service. The MSO wouldn’t say how many customers fall into this "dual-play" group, but noted that the "majority" of its 15.7 million high-speed Internet subs presently qualify for access to Xfinity.

To gain access, those customers must first download and install a security client, and then provide their "credentials" (their Comcast.net email addresses and passwords) so the system can figure out what Xfinity content they are entitled to view as part of their regular TV subscription (Comcast subs who don't get HBO, for example, can't get it through Xfinity, either.).

Comcast is also working on a system that will allow the MSO's video-only customers to access Xfinity content. That system, which would apply to Comcast's entire universe of 24 million subs, should be ready in about six months, Banse said.

Banse reiterated that any authorized, credentialed PC can access Xfinity content -- even devices that don't reside on a Comcast cable network. However, Xfinity content is subject to Comcast's monthly 250 gigabyte "excessive use" cap. Comcast wouldn’t provide any usage stats from the initial Xfinity test, but Banse said usage for that was two to three times higher than the average seen on the nationally available Fancast service. (See Comcast Draws the Line at 250GB.)

Xfinity starts with limited hi-def
Comcast SVP of new media Matt Strauss estimated that Xfinity is starting off with about 2,000 incremental, additional hours of content (including a small portion in hi-def format) versus what's already available through the regular ad-supported Fancast video hub, which has about 12,000 titles and is available to anyone in the U.S. with high-speed broadband. Comcast estimates that it presently offers about 17,000 titles through its regular, set-top-fed video-on-demand (VoD) service.

Almost 30 networks -- including A&E, G4, and premium programmers HBO, Cinemax, and Starz -- are onboard with the Xfinity extension. Sexy "adult content" from networks like Cinemax isn't offered through Xfinity yet, though Comcast anticipates providing access to that when parental control features are added by early February 2010.

Showtime is among the networks that are notably absent at the moment, but Strauss said negotiations with that network and others are ongoing.

He declined to say if Showtime and others are asking for more money to be part of Xfinity, but stressed that pricing is "not the main talking point" of those negotiations, and that programmers are more concerned about the user experience, security of their content, and what advertising model is being used.

Comcast is offering the incremental Xfinity lineup for free to customers that qualify. Although the MSO views it as a broader plan to allow access to video programming from anywhere and from any device, others view the move as a way to discourage a still-small group of consumers from "cutting the cord," whereby they chuck their traditional TV subscriptions and fulfill all their video needs through broadband.

Cross-platform play
As for allowing mobile device access to Xfinity, Banse would only say that "it's on our roadmap for next year."

She said Comcast is already working on several more "cross-platform features" that will allow customers to manage their DVRs remotely, tune the TV from the Website, and generate VoD watchlists that can be transferred to the set-top environment. Banse said some of those features will be showing up over the next six months.

Although Xfinity is bound to the Fancast.com and Comcast.net sites, Banse said the MSO is also working on an authentication method that could be applied to content obtained directly from the Websites of partner programmers. She didn't say when that option, which is said to be a preference of Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s, might become available.

thePlatform Inc. , the Comcast-owned media publisher that's helped create Fancast and the newer Xfinity extension, recently introduced such a system, but has yet to announce any takers for it. (See thePlatform Plugs In 'TV Everywhere'.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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