Clearwire & Canoe
Aside from a sizable $600 million pretax write-down on Comcast's investment in Clearwire, the MSO didn't have many specifics to add about its 4G WiMax plans during this morning's fourth-quarter earnings call. (See Cable Plays Clearwire Card and Comcast Sub Growth Weakens in Q4 .)
Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts referred to the WiMax service launch in Portland (a Comcast market, by the way), but said it's really up to Clearwire to "speak for the results" that have been seen there so far. (See Clearwire Takes 4G Mobile WiMax to Portland.)
But as far as Comcast's role with Clearwire on a deployment or service basis, "that is not something we feel is going to happen [in] the first few months of '09, but we are working on it," Roberts said. "In the back half of the year, I think you will see some real activity in certain key markets."
In a veiled shot at Long-Term Evolution (LTE), another 4G technology, he was likewise optimistic that mobile WiMax will give Comcast "a first-mover advantage in many markets." Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), by the way, just announced its first two LTE suppliers. The telco expects to start commercial LTE deployments in 2010. (See MWC 2009: Verizon Picks LTE Vendors.)
Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), another Clearwire partner that just reported a sizable write-down of its own, has been a smidge more exact, noting recently it expects to roll out an initial offering in conjunction with Clearwire in "at least" one city later this year. (See TWC in '09: Job Cuts, WiMax & Wideband .)
Canoe: Still rowing forward
"Creative Versioning," the first product to emerge from the Canoe advanced advertising joint venture, will debut sometime this spring, according to Comcast cable division president Steve Burke.
As previously described, Creative Versioning will enable MSOs to create "addressable" advertising opportunities using traditional cable advertising zones. The idea is to apply demographic data so the advertiser can deliver spots that are more relevant to a given set of households. (See Canoe Ventures Paddles Ahead and Canoe Ventures: What It Is, What It Ain't .)
Although Canoe and its advanced advertising products look to help cable shore up a soft ad market and to prevent more ad dollars from leaking to the Internet, Comcast doesn't expect the initiative to make lots of hay right away.
"The materiality of the business, when it becomes a very large, needle-moving business for us, is not going to occur in 2009," Burke predicted.
But the sooner that happens, the better. Speaking on today's call, Comcast CFO Michael Angelakis summed up the dim situation: Comcast's cable ad business, which accounts for just 5 percent of the MSO's total revenue, deteriorated further in the fourth quarter of 2008. Excluding the benefit of political advertising, "core advertising" revenues in the fourth quarter dipped 20 percent year-over year.
"In 2009, we expect advertising sales will continue to be pressured, and [we] do not anticipate a recovery," Angelakis said.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News