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Comcast Clicking With EBIF

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LR Cable News Analysis
Light Reading
10/27/2009

DENVER -- CTAM Summit -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has simple interactive TV applications such as voting and polling deployed to about 60 to 65 percent of its cable homes, vice president of interactive TV James Mumma said during a panel discussion here Monday.

Earlier this year, Comcast Corp. COO Steve Burke said that Comcast and its partners in Canoe Ventures LLC -- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Charter Communications Inc. , Cox Communications Inc. , Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), and Bright House Networks -- would reach 25 million Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF)-enabled set-top boxes by the end of the year. Comcast senior director of video product development James Mumma said today that Comcast and its partners are on schedule to meet that goal. (See Comcast Speeds Up '09 Wideband Goal , Canoe Rows Toward Enhanced TV , and Cable's Canoe Heads for Scalable Waters .)

Canoe CEO David Verklin all but confirmed that, too, in a separate conversation with Cable Digital News . "I think we'll get close [to that goal]. I think we'll get very close," Verklin said when asked if Burke's earlier stated EBIF goal among the Canoe partners was indeed achievable.

The applications that the EBIF architecture will enable include voting and polling, allowing viewers to request more information about a product advertised by pressing a button on their remotes. EBIF will also enable "t-commerce," which lets subscribers buy products through the TV, Verklin added.

But several obstacles must be overcome for major cable operators to reach scale with interactive TV services.

"The good news here is that Comcast isn't out doing this on our own. Canoe Ventures has been formed. There are other MSOs doing this," Mumma said, but added that the bad news is that some MSOs aren't. He was likely referring to Cablevision, which is getting its interactive ad campaign off the ground using a proprietary system rather than the CableLabs -specified EBIF platform. (See Comcast COO: Nat'l Platform Key to Interactive Ads and Cablevision Gets Interactive.)

"The standard of EBIF has a couple of different flavors. We are addressing that," Mumma said.

Mumma reached out to programmers in the audience here in Denver, asking them to help Comcast develop new user interfaces for interactive program guides and applications that will let subscribers use their remote controls to perform functions such as ordering new premium channels or accessing an interactive TV widget that displays news and weather info.

Showtime Networks Inc. VP of interactive television David Preisman showed off an application that has been deployed by Time Warner Cable and other affiliates that allows cable customers that don't subscribe to Showtime to sample free video-on-demand (VOD) shows from the premium programmer. The app also lets them upgrade and subscribe to the network with a click of the remote control. And the process is much quicker (and cheaper) than a call to an MSO service rep.

"The whole transaction can take between five seconds and a minute. It depends on the capabilities of the operator and their billing system," Preisman said. The application brings "instant gratification" to the cable subscriber, and for the cable operator. "They didn't have to answer at the call center. And it generates revenue," Preisman said.

Mumma said Comcast is looking to deploy interactive TV widgets that will allow subscribers to access news, weather, and other information that isn't related to the program they're viewing. "Let's just say the Phillies are creaming the Yankees in the World Series and you just wanted to find out what the weather is going to be like tomorrow, or you wanted to check the news. You could open up your widget and check that out," Mumma said, drawing a mix of cheers and boos from baseball fans in attendance.

Asked if he expected cable operators to develop application stores similar to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iTunes store, NDS Ltd. VP of broadband and interactive Steve Tranter said that wouldn't occur any time soon. "I do believe there will be some sort of app stores... but it will be in much more controlled environments," Tranter added.

Elsewhere in the cable ITV world, Comcast EVP David Cohen reportedly revealed that the MSO's plant will be wired up for the more advanced tru2way platform by year's end. Comcast and a handful of other MSOs missed an original deadline to have that done by July 1. (See MSOs to Miss Tru2way Date .)

— Steve Donohue, Special to Cable Digital News

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