October 28, 2009
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has an underground IPTV and video convergence project underway, code-named "Excalibur," Cable Digital News has learned.
Comcast hasn't released any details about the project, said to be near the top of the MSO's priority list. But sources familiar with Excalibur say its aim is to develop a "services overlay" that would put all IP services, including video, into a common provisioning and management system. Sources also say Excalibur will use a form of digital rights management (DRM) for security.
However, a Comcast official said it's more appropriate to call the work a "natural extension of the work we're doing" with IP. Comcast has been using IP for years to deliver voice, Internet access, and even some video applications, the official added. (See SCTE Expo: MSOs Prep IPTV Push .)
Comcast is expected to use Excalibur to help it pursue an IPTV strategy that includes personalized, unicast video services -- although older, QAM-based video will still factor in for years to come.
But the broader vision has Excalibur factoring in with Comcast's "TV Everywhere" ambitions, which involve delivering IPTV to PCs, smartphones, and myriad other video displays that speak IP. (See Comcast Web TV Trial: 10,000 Being Served and Comcast Nears 'TV Everywhere' Launch.)
Industry sources say about 100 employees are involved with Excalibur, with Comcast Interactive Capital president and founding partner Sam Schwartz running point on the project.
A Comcast official confirmed that Schwartz has been named president of a newly created division called Comcast Converged Products, a position that reports to Comcast CTO Tony Werner. Industry sources say Schwartz gets at least five direct reports.
It's said that a good portion of the work centered on Excalibur/Comcast Converged Products will be done in Radnor, Pa., where Comcast already operates some facilities and where the GuideWorks LLC joint venture is based.
Excalibur is hiring
Although Comcast isn't shouting about Excalibur from the hilltops yet, some public information about it has emerged. The "odinjobs" beta site lists three recent job postings for Excalibur: a lead architect, a system administration support consultant to support the "Excalibur Content Ingest team," and a procurement lead. The location listed for all three is Philadelphia.
The postings also share some detail about Excalibur, characterizing it as Comcast's "next big thing":
Comcast is going to change the way America looks at television. Sound exciting? Then be a part of our next big thing. Our customers want access to entertainment from every source and we are going to bring it to them! Whether it is their TV, PC, smartphone, or the next cool device, we are building a next-generation platform that will serve them all and provide a seamless experience. It is the converged world we have all been waiting for.
Microsoft, Adobe in hot pursuit
It's unclear whether Comcast has issued any formal requests for proposals (RFPs) or requests for information (RFIs) on Excalibur, but multiple sources say Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE), and Intertrust Technologies are among those in the running for the DRM component. Comcast has already shown interest in bringing Adobe Flash to the set-top environment. (See Comcast Offers Glimpse of Flash Strategy .)
It's not clear yet who has the inside track, but one source familiar with the project says Comcast is concerned about Adobe's consumption-based licensing terms.
Comcast didn't confirm any Excalibur-related talks with those vendors, but noted that it's holding conversations with "hundreds" of companies for different components and applications that may or may not end up becoming part of the project.
What ends up emerging from all this work is still in flux. "There are no product plans or specific products to talk about at this time," the Comcast official said.
While Comcast's Excalibur project is high on ambition, the name may not score many points for originality. In days of Docsis yore, Excalibur was also the code name Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) used for its Road Runner high-speed Internet service.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
Interested in learning more on this topic? Then come to TelcoTV 2009, the telecom industry’s premier event for the exploration of a comprehensive entertainment convergence strategy, to be staged in Orlando, Fla., November 10-12. For more information, or to register, click here.
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