Comcast IDs Cloud TV Product as 'X1'

Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s next-gen, cloud-based video platform has a new name and a loose subscriber target for 2012.

What was previously known as Xcalibur will be branded as "X1" as the MSO starts to roll it out to a number of "key" markets, with the expectation that it will be in front of "hundreds of thousands" of customers this year, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts predicted Wednesday on the company's fourth-quarter earnings call. (See Comcast to Swing Xcalibur Wide in 2012.)

That'll be a drop in the bucket compared to Comcast's total video subscriber base of 22.34 million, but it's a start. "2012 is about getting [X1] commercialized in a number of key markets," Roberts said.

Augusta, Ga., is the site of a small Xcalibur technical trial based on a video gateway developed in tandem with U.K.-based vendor Pace plc . The idea is to put the user interface and application platform on the network, a move that should help Comcast develop and deploy new apps and navigation tools more rapidly than it can in older boxes that require lengthy regressing testing whenever even the simplest software change is made. (See Comcast Courts the Cloud, Comcast Confirms Xcalibur Partners, Comcast's Web-Slinging Set-Top Visits the FCC and Comcast Demos New Web-Based TV Service.)

The next-gen platform will also help Comcast deliver video services to connected TVs, tablets and other displays that don't use a traditional set-top box. Multiple industry sources also indicate that Xcalibur, coupled with the MSO's broad deployment of Docsis 3.0, is forming the foundation of Comcast's migration to an all-IP video platform. Comcast is also in the process of reclaiming all its analog spectrum, a strategy that will clear up valuable capacity it can apply to Xcalbur/X1 and more HD channels. (See Comcast Starts to Kiss Analog TV Goodbye and Comcast 'Completes' Docsis 3.0 Rollout.)

"X1 is a beginning of a new way of communicating with the television device, which is coming from the cloud, not solely from the box," Roberts explained, referencing Comcast's recent work to pipe services to connected TVs from Samsung Corp. and the Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) Xbox 360. (See CES 2011: Samsung Puts MSOs in the Picture and Comcast, Verizon Connect With the Xbox 360.)

An update on Comcast's new video platform comes after the MSO significantly improved video subscriber losses in the fourth quarter of 2012, shedding just 17,000 versus the 135,000 it lost in the year-ago period. (See Comcast Narrows Gap on Video Sub Losses .)

Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Inc. analyst Craig Moffett predicted recently that Comcast's new video platform could help the MSO close the gap completely and perhaps begin to gain subs as early as 2013. (See Can Comcast Stop Losing Video Subscribers?)

Roberts isn't willing to stick his neck out that far yet. "We may not get back to full growth on video for a while, because we don't see housing growth at the moment, but someday that's going to happen," he said.

Other big projects
X1 is just one big project on Comcast's docket for 2012. Comcast is in the process of expanding its home security/monitoring service to most of its markets, and expects to deploy Wi-Fi to additional cities in 2012. (See Comcast Unlocks Home Security Service.)

Comcast Cable President and CEO Neil Smit said the MSO has deployed about 4,000 Wi-Fi access points in Philadelphia and parts of New Jersey and Delaware. He declined to say which cities were on deck, but his comments come as the cable industry starts to ramp up a unified Wi-Fi roaming architecture that will expand on the work Comcast, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) have done in the Northeastern U.S. (See Cable Sizes Up National Wi-Fi Play .)

Smit noted that Comcast's Wi-Fi strategy will center on Internet access rather than on adding a wireless voice component.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

BigBro 12/5/2012 | 5:42:30 PM
re: Comcast IDs Cloud TV Product as 'X1'

If I can't use my TiVo to access this stuff, I'm not interested.

And when I say "TiVo", I mean a product made by Tivo Inc. of Alviso, CA, not some generic DVR crapmobile. :)


Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:42:31 PM
re: Comcast IDs Cloud TV Product as 'X1'

Not sure I follow the branding here, though I guess a company that's using Xfinity as its primary brand will try to force an "X" into every product it can.  But it was also mentioned to me that Comcast's pick for this product shares the name of the first in a line of experimental aircraft outfitted with  new technologies. Xcalibur was steeped in secrecy for a while and it's sporting some new tech,  so maybe that's how the idea of going with X1 or X-1 (not sure if they'll go hyphen-free or not)  came about. JB


Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:42:33 PM
re: Comcast IDs Cloud TV Product as 'X1'

the progress is surprising, but I'm still curious as to how far that migration will actaully get this year... i think Xcalibur will start off with WEb-fed apps to these hybrid gateways, but i'd be surprised if they get as far as an IP simulcast as they roll this out... imagine they'll rely heavily on mpeg transport for a lot of that video.  an ip simulcast will come in handy when they start to offer the full cable tv service over IP  to connected devices, but the pieces certainly look like they're falling into place. JB

msilbey 12/5/2012 | 5:42:33 PM
re: Comcast IDs Cloud TV Product as 'X1'

I'm still in shock that Comcast has its IP migration moving so quickly. The idea of a transition only became a big topic back in 2008, and 4 years is lightning quick for the cable industry. Actually, forget cable, it's lightning quick for any major infrastructure upgrade. I look at trajectories for smart grid development, and Comcast looks positively efficient in comparison. Granted we're talking about private versus public there, but still, networks are messy. And I have to give Comcast credit for the progress its made.

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