Video services

Comcast Boosts HD VOD Offerings

DirecTV is aggressively expanding its capacity in a bid to leapfrog MSOs' broadcast high-definition (HD) TV offerings. AT&T is working furiously to roll out competitive IPTV services across its footprint. What's a cable operator to do?

One obvious solution is to deliver a video service that neither competitor will be selling anytime soon: HD video-on-demand (VOD). It is possible to deliver a simple, standard-definition VOD offering via satellite using DVR storage. But HD? Fuh-get about it. AT&T's DSL-based, broadband-on-the-cheap U-verse video service doesn't even include broadcast HD, let alone HD VOD.

In a move to exploit this vulnerability, and win the hearts of its high-end video customers, Comcast plans to increase its available HD VOD content significantly, from 15 hours per month to 100 hours per month.

Comcast is kicking off the expansion this weekend with an HD VOD "free-view" promo. Through a deal with Starz, the MSO will offer 20 movies per month in HD, including the cable debut of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Comcast points to a survey highlighting customer demand for HD on-demand. The MSO said 80 percent of those surveyed expressed a preference for watching HD programs on their own schedules, rather than at traditional broadcast TV times. No shocker there. Of course, Comcast opted not to mention that this goal can be achieved nicely with an HD DVR - but hey, this is about touting HD VOD.

There is a danger with HD VOD for MSOs, though. Each high-def stream requires three to five times as much bandwidth as standard-def VOD streams. If customers get hooked on HD VOD, Comcast and other cable operators will be challenged to provide enough capacity to scale their offerings. The good news is that is a problem created by customers who are still connected to cable networks.

- Michael Harris, Chief Analyst, Cable Digital News

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