Comcast to Swing Xcalibur Wide in 2012
The test of Xcalibur is limited to about 1,000 homes in Augusta, Ga., but the plan is to "blow that out" in 2012, said Sam Schwartz, president of Comcast converged products and a founding partner for Comcast Interactive Capital , who spoke here Thursday on a panel about the connected TV market. "Next year is when we take it across the country."
Comcast shed some light on its secretive Xcalibur project at The Cable Show in June, culminating in a live demo from company Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts of a hybrid IP/QAM video gateway with an advanced user interface and the ability to port third-party apps that tie into a cloud-based infrastructure. (See Comcast Demos New Web-Based TV Service, Comcast Confirms Xcalibur Partners and Xcalibur's Coming-Out Party? )
Xcalibur, whose initial partners include Pace plc , thePlatform Inc. and Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC), will also let users search for content, whether it's offered on a live, linear channel, on the video-on-demand system or stored on the local DVR.
It'll also support third-party apps, but there are only four running in the Augusta trial -- news and weather widgets, plus ports of Pandora Media Inc. and Facebook . Schwartz says Comcast will expand that number.
But that's a lot less than Roku Inc. , which supports more than 300 apps, including Angry Birds, Crackle, Hulu Plus, Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and authenticated VoD content from the premium EPIX channel. And Roku is looking for more authenticated content, akin to the sort of premium-level stuff the Xbox 360 will be gaining access to later this year. (See Comcast, Verizon Connect With the Xbox 360.)
But Roku claims it doesn't have any near-term ambitions to replicate or replace everything a cable set-top box does. "We're kind of happy being input B," said Charles Seiber, Roku's VP of marketing. [Ed. note: Input A of a TV is typically where the cable set-top box feeds into.]
And Roku has some incentive to play nice. Comcast wants to have Xfinity On Demand available on a larger, but somewhat targeted, number of connected devices. "We want to be on screens consumers want us to be on," Schwartz said, referencing game consoles, "some" connected TV models, and Roku. "I think we want to be on those platforms because they get the bulk of the usage."
And part of the reason why Comcast won't port authenticated VoD content to every connected device is that it's still an expensive proposition, Schwartz warned. Netflix streaming is offered on gobs of devices, but they're faced with a steep "maintenance task" that Comcast would just as soon avoid until there is wider adoption of standards like HTML5 or of a small number of proprietary technologies.
But Netflix is popular pretty much everywhere it shows up. Netflix is the top app on LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) connected TVs, said Kurt Hoppe, LG's director of Smart TV Innovation and Alliances.
Pandora is on 400 different types of devices, but its strategy to be on as many devices as possible does come at a different kind of price – some loss of control. Pandora, said company VP of Business Development Ian Geller, doesn't build a custom app for every device but did publish an API that its device partners could build to. That means Pandora loses some control of the app, and it's up to the device manufacturer to fix any bugs. When it's up to the device partner, a bug fix could take a year, he said.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable