Put this story in the category of unexpected news out of this year's American Cable Association Summit.
On stage, in front of a full house of American Cable Association (ACA) members and a smattering of press, the CEO and president of the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) revealed what he's heard about Comcast's IP plans this year. According to Rich Fickle, who was speaking on a panel with his counterparts at the ACA, Comcast will deliver IP-only video service to all new customers by the end of 2017.
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) has not confirmed Fickle's assertion and couldn't be reached for comment before press time.
While going all-IP would be an ambitious goal for Comcast this calendar year, it wouldn't be impossible from a technical perspective. As Light Reading has reported multiple times now, Comcast has the capability to deliver all of its video content over IP today. The issue holding Comcast back, and indeed all of the cable industry, is a large footprint of legacy set-top boxes. However, as Comcast is reportedly moving forward with its IP-based Stream product, a skinny bundle service that can be accessed on mobile devices and connected TV sets, the grip of those legacy set-tops may be loosening. (See The Skinny on Comcast's Skinny Bundle.)
Of note, the panel on which Fickle spoke was primarily focused on the regulatory and technology issues facing smaller cable operators, not the Goliath that is Comcast. However, the transition to IP video is one that affects all pay-TV providers, large, small and otherwise.
Unfortunately for smaller operators, the migration to IP requires resources that many don't have to spend. As a result, the NCTC is working with over-the-top providers to see where its members can partner to offer new types of video packages that don't require an entire overhaul of the video delivery system. The organization has already signed a master agreement with Hulu LLC to make the service available through a revenue-sharing agreement with members, and is facilitating partnerships between its members and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX). According to Fickle, the NCTC is also talking to virtual MVPD providers (think Sling TV and PlayStation Vue) and to niche OTT content providers. (See TV Retrans Wars Impact Broadband Too.)
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading