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Comcast Hits Gas Pedal on X1

Alan Breznick

Scrambling to shore up its core video customer base, Comcast Corp. has now rolled out its next-gen X1 IP video platform to more than half of its footprint and intends to deploy it in another seven markets by the end of the week.

Speaking on the MSO's second quarter earnings call Wednesday morning, Comcast Cable President and CEO Neil Smit said his company has now introduced X1 in 53 percent of its service area. Plans call for extending X1 to 100 percent of Comcast's footprint by the end of the year.

The latest launch markets for X1include Michigan, Minneapolis/St. Paul and Utah. These launches follow the completion of Comcast's X1 rollout in New England last week. (See Comcast Spreads X1's Wings.)

Smit said Comcast, which began deploying X1 to its triple-play subscribers in May 2012, is starting to see some favorable results from the cloud-based IP video platform. He noted that X1 has generated about a 20 percent jump in video-on-demand (VoD) views in its initial markets and is boosting sales of premium channel subscriptions.

While cautioning that it's still too early to gauge X1's impact on subscriber churn, Smit said he believes there may be favorable returns there as well. Comcast lost 159,000 basic cable subscribers in the notoriously tough spring quarter, an improvement over the 176,000 video customers that it shed in the same period a year ago.

Noting that improvement, Wall Street analysts generally praised Comcast's performance as its video revenues also continued to grow at a steady clip and its broadband and VoIP subscriber totals increased more than they did a year ago in the face of growing competition from the Verizon FiOS and AT&T U-Verse services. For instance, Comcast netted 187,000 high-speed data subs in the second quarter, up from 156,000 the year before.

Further, Comcast is continuing to make strong gains on other fronts as well. For example, its business services unit produced an impressive $788 million in revenue during the quarter, up more than 25 percent from $623 million a year earlier. For the first half of 2013, Comcast Business generated slightly more than $1.5 billion, putting it on pace to become the first MSO to reach $3 billion in annual commercial services revenue this year.

"Comcast is executing exceptionally well," said Craig Moffett, senior analyst and principal at Moffett Research. Speaking at The Independent Show in San Diego, Moffett said Comcast is setting a high bar for other major U.S. MSOs to match. "The reason they're trying to consolidate is they want to be like Comcast," he said.

Still, with the exodus of the 159,000 basic subscribers, Comcast suffered at least its 12th straight quarterly loss of video customers. As a result, the largest U.S. MSO closed out June with 21.8 million video subs, down from 22.1 million a year earlier (See Comcast Suffers Q1 Video Subs Setback.)

On their earnings call, Comcast executives said they remain on track to introduce their X2 platform, an upgraded, more personalized version of the X1 guide, in several markets this fall. Among other things, the X2 will also help Comcast stream live TV programming to PCs, media tablets and smart phones in customers' homes.

Company officials also said they're looking at ways to extend the X1's advanced user interface to older digital set-top boxes already installed in subscribers' homes. Without disclosing any details, Comcast Chairman & CEO Brian Roberts said the MSO will likely try out a few ideas for bringing the next-gen interface to older set-tops in the coming months.

— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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