Comcast's Brian Roberts Talks TV Everywhere, New Entertainment System and the Cloud

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Brian Roberts

Comcast this fall will launch the X2 entertainment system for the home, which used cloud technology and includes a new set-top box and a reinvented remote control

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts made his first appearance at the annual National Cable and Telecommunications Association convention since 2011 on Tuesday -- and before introducing the crowd to the cable and broadband giant's next product launch, the X2 entertainment system, he admitted that the industry has been slow to roll out TV Everywhere services.

“Guilty as charged. We haven’t made it as easy as we need to. There’s a lot of effort around that,” said Roberts. “It’s a matter of focus and commitment to it. We’re now heading in a good direction. We’ve got more TV Everywhere usage, and a year from today we will have more than we have today.”

Roberts said the future of cable will be “more interactive, more personalized” with content “working on every device.”

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After being interviewed by Becky Quick of CNBC, Roberts presented a keynote addressing what that future will look like. He used his appearance to announce and demonstrate how Comcast has reinvented the way its technology interacts with its customers, including new, simplified screens filled with information that is personalized specifically for them.

Roberts said that in a decade the industry has gone from slow dial-up services to digital platforms that deliver content 11 times faster, and that is just the start. In 1996, he debuted a 10 Mbps connection that quickly downloaded photos, and in 2007 he downloaded the Encyclopedia Britannica over a 160 Mbps connection using a new DOCSIS 3.0 modem. In 2011, he demonstrated a 1 Gbps broadband connection for the first time.

Roberts said Comcast will introduce 4k Ultra HD service this fall along with a new X13 cable box that will be four times faster and three times smaller than past units, using half as much power. They have also redesigned and rethought the remote control with what he described as “cool features” and “open architecture.”

Comcast calls the new entertainment system the X2.

To make his point, Roberts opened an e-mail he said was sent from Paul Allen, with the visual on a giant screen behind him. He said using existing cable systems they are able to demonstrate how the download is 300 times faster than that first demonstration he did in 1996 and twice as fast as what they could do a year ago.

“It’s the cloud,” said Roberts. “The cloud is a game changer. We had an aha moment. We can take most of the cable box and move it to the cloud.”

A lot of effort went into the onscreen guide to make it simpler, more personal, more user-friendly and much more informative. When the customer turns it on, there are easy-to-use buttons to see the last channel watched, the channels most watched, and more.

Roberts said their data shows 80 percent of DVR viewing is done in the first 18 hours after a program is recorded, so they have pop-ups that tell the user what is available. There is also easy bookmarking to save shows for later.

There are separate guides for movies, children's programming, sports and even some that are personalized to what the user likes to watch and wants to know.

When a movie is opened, there is also information from Rotten Tomatoes on how it rated; and for a TV show there is data from Twitter that shows a score based on the buzz that program is generating and how many tweets per hour have posted.

For kids, there is data from Common Sense to suggest programs specific to each age, so the shows for kids age 7 are different than those who are age 8.

To go with a suite of services Comcast offers in terms of security, operation of home appliances and heating and cooling systems, and cameras placed around the home, Roberts showed it is all available at a single click.

“It’s part of your future,” said Roberts. “I think it’s going to be better than ever before. And what is critical is you can do it on any connected device. The whole look and feel is to be easy, fast and fun. And were just scratching the surface.”

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