Comcast, Time Warner talk digital TV

Executives talk separately about transition plans

Cable giants Comcast and Time Warner Cable are ready to reach out to the millions of households in their footprint that won't be able to receive digital TV signals over the air after the digital TV transition in February.

Speaking at the Merrill Lynch Media Fall Preview conference, Comcast COO Steve Burke said his company has 6 million-8 million over-the-air users in its markets, of which about 2 million-3 million will need a new digital provider to continue receiving TV service. "We ought to get a chunk of that," he said.

Later in the day, Time Warner Cable COO Landel Hobbs said his firm already has seen early migration to its cable service following the first digital switchover in Wilmington, N.C. He told investors that about 4 million homes in TWC markets get TV over-the-air.

Hobbs on Tuesday also warned that recently started negotiations over broadcast TV carriage deals with the likes of Univision could lead to channels going dark in some markets. That is a possibility if both sides push for concessions from the other, but he said, "I don't think that's good for the consumer."

Meanwhile, Burke shrugged off Monday's deal between Internet giant Google and NBC Universal for TV ad sales via Google's online auction platform, arguing that marketers won't really benefit as much as from the cable industry's interactive ad sales efforts. "If you want to target," he said, "the only real way is through the cable infrastructure."