Time To Teach Old STBs Some New Tricks
Comcast Corp. published some nice, round numbers Thursday about video-on-demand usage, noting that it's pulling in about 400 million total views per month and is on track to exceed 30 billion views since it launched VoD in 2003. Looking at the more recent trends, Comcast subscribers are watching more than 80 million hours per month in TV shows alone, company SVP of Digital and Emerging Platforms Matt Strauss noted in this blog post. The company also confirmed that, when movies and other types of content are factored in, Comcast pumped out 2.4 billion hours of VoD in 2012, up from 2.1 billion in 2011. The good news is that usage is heading in the right direction: it's increasing. The not-so-good news? Those numbers could be rising much faster, given the size of Comcast's digital TV base (21.25 million) and VoD vault (36,000-plus "choices"). One historic limitation has been the user interface. The vast majority of Comcast's set-tops use text-intensive interactive program guides that are a chore to use, especially when trying to navigate through thousands of VoD choices. If you don't know what you're looking for when you're heading into this video vastness, it can quickly become an exasperating hunting expedition. The new Xfinity TV tablet apps, which link into Comcast's VoD system, offer a step in the right direction, especially when it comes to presentation and search and discovery. But I imagine most customers still rely on the traditional set-top-based IPG and remote control. Old habits and all. Comcast's IP-capable, cloud-based X1 user interface, and, soon, the more personalized X2 version, use HD graphics, fancy jacket art and a more intuitive way to navigate the service, such as it's doing now on tablets and smartphones. A Comcast spokesman says the company is in fact seeing an increase in VoD usage on the X1 platform versus the legacy set-tops/UIs, but wouldn't say by how much. (See Comcast's 'X2' to Get Personal With the TV.) But the upside of X1 in this respect is limited. Comcast has not rolled it out nationally yet and is targeting it primarily to new triple-play customers at this point. We don't yet know how many customers are even using it yet, but it's likely a small fraction of the customer base. So that still leaves most of its 21.25 million digital TV subscribers on the old, more limited interfaces. One way to solve that is to work with companies such as ActiveVideo Networks Inc. and SeaChange International Inc., which have developed technology that can bring Web-like UIs to those crusty QAM-locked boxes. In fact, Comcast is running some tests with ActiveVideo in Chattanooga, Tenn. (See ActiveVideo Breaks In at Comcast .)
SeaChange's NitroNow brings a fancier VoD UI to cable's QAM world.