Consumers king for Comcast

Limitless content will be available on any screen

Comcast is looking to broadband site Fancast and a growing stable of high-definition VOD titles to headline the company's tech efforts following months of turbulence on Wall Street.

At his keynote Tuesday at the Consumer Electronics Show, Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts talked of a Comcast 3.0, which will aim to provide consumers with whatever content they want on whatever screen they want, a common theme in Web. 2.0 conversations.

"We know that in Comcast 3.0 the consumer is king," Roberts said. "The next generation of products and services will grow out of this understanding."

One of the main projects toward the goal is Fancast, a Web TV and movie destination that grew out of his company's acquisition of Fandango last year. The site has been in beta since August, and Roberts officially announced its launch Tuesday. He demonstrated the technology at the keynote, which allows for the download of an HD film version of a film in about four minutes. The CEO said he expects this technology to roll out by year's end.

In addition, Roberts detailed an expansion of the cable giant's free HD VOD offerings, which includes TV, film and music videos. The HD library, part of a greater catalog of 10,000 titles, will grow from 300 to more than 1,000 this year. Comcast hopes to ramp up to 6,000 films in 2009, 3,000 of which will be in HD.

Derek Harrar, senior vp and GM video services, said Monday that Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, will make the HD offerings available as the content companies are willing to put them on VOD. The HD content will encompass the full range of content that the company owns.

These projects are part of a Comcast initiative dubbed Project Infinity. The goal of the strategy is to provide a limitless library of content for consumers on any screen.

"We want to provide every piece of video content that a producer wants to put on TV," Roberts said. "We're going to expand our relationship with content creators, large and small. We can work with any business model that works for them."

Fancast aims to provide information on TV and film content and also has options for search and viewing.

The site is officially launching with more than 3,000 hours of programming and the capability to search through more than 50,000 television shows, 80,000 movies and 1.2 million people.

"It's not just another entertainment destination," Roberts said. "It's the next big step toward a truly personalized experience."

Comcast also has deals for shortform content from ABC and shortform and longform content, including film and TV, from the NBC Universal/News Corp. joint venture Hulu, CBS, Viacom, MGM and Sony. Amy Banse, president of interactive media for Comcast, said Monday that the company is "talking with everyone" about more content deals.

"Fancast is really developed as a strategic asset," Banse said. "Comcast has been a place for TV and movies for 35 years and we wanted to expand on that and make consumption of content as easy as possible."

The content runs in Fancast's own player, which can be branded based on content owner, and Comcast shares the revenue created from the offerings with the content owner.

Banse said an option to program a TV's DVR from Fancast will be available this year. The site also is working on an electronic sell-through option which will make content available to rent. She also said the company is working toward social networking capabilities, critic and peer reviews and the option for a Netflix-like queue. "The site's not fully baked by any means," she said.

Comcast also partnered with Panasonic on Monday to unveil the AnyPlay portable DVD/DVR device. The device, which features 60 gigabytes of digital video recording capacity and an 8.5-inch folding LCD display screen, will be available in 2009.

Panasonic AVC Networks president Toshihiro Sakamoto appeared on stage alongside Roberts to show off the new device.

Dennis Miller discussed Fancast in a taped segment during the event and Ryan Seacrest, a personality on the Comcast-owned E! network, joined Roberts onstage as well, adding some lighthearted banter in promoting the broadband site.

Flight of the Conchords, the satirical folk duo with a show on HBO of the same name, closed out the keynote with a short performance.
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