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Comcast Center Purveying VOD

Sep 20, 2004  •  Post A Comment

Cable giant Comcast has been vocal about its sweeping video-on-demand strategy, including plans to increase content by 400 percent to 10,000 hours in a few years. However, little has been said about how the operator will achieve this massive increase.

The “how factor” is the Comcast Media Center in Denver, the technological hub for the company’s VOD voyage into the future and quite possibly the source for other operators as well. The Media Center is not only powering Comcast’s VOD service in 31 markets but also currently testing its services for other cable operators-large and small-to provide them with its VOD production, content management and delivery services, a so-called “total content management solution.” In fact, the center expects to have an agreement in place with at least one additional multiple system operator within six weeks. By offering its services to other MSOs, Comcast’s goal is similar to the effort that TCI made 10 years ago with Headend in the Sky, which was initially designed to service TCI’s digital channel delivery but came to be used by other MSOs. Headend in the Sky, a product eventually acquired by Comcast and still offered by the center, now delivers more than 150 digital program services to about 300 MSO affiliates serving more than 9 million digital cable customers.

The center could have a similar reach and role for VOD in fostering the development of thousands of virtual channels for VOD. The center was founded in 1994 as the National Digital Television Center, was later renamed the AT&T Digital Media Center and then became the Comcast Media Center after Comcast’s acquisition of AT&T Broadband.

While Comcast has used some basic VOD services from the center since earlier this year, the center recently began aggregating and delivering additional content specifically suited for the VOD medium, playing a complementary role to the established VOD aggregators TVN Entertainment and iN Demand, said Mitch Weinraub, senior director of new media for Comcast Media Center. TVN and iN Demand largely package hit movies, library titles, children’s programming and cable network content.

Conventions On-Demand

The more VOD-centric content emanating from the center includes the NFL Network content on-demand that Comcast began offering to customers last week. The center processes the video from the NFL for VOD delivery. The content includes eight 20-minute excerpts of extended highlights from each game offered on-demand the next day. The operator received about 50,000 orders for the Sept. 9 Patriots-Colts game in the first two days following the game, making it one of the top five VOD programs ever, Comcast reported during a press conference last week.

Other material offered exclusively on-demand included speeches from the recent political conventions from C-SPAN. By serving as a national platform, the center reduces time and expense at the local systems to manage the VOD content, Mr. Weinraub said. And the center is an all-in-one operation with production, encoding and distribution capabilities, said Leslie Russell, VP of sales and marketing for the center.

“We do feel there is stuff like the convention coverage that, without a video facility and the ability to edit it, wouldn’t have been possible [on-demand],” Mr. Weinraub said. “We are looking to grow the category and expand out past the basics and carry that forward with stuff like the conventions.”

Time Warner and Adelphia, as well as Comcast, received the C-SPAN convention VOD content through iN Demand, but it was delivered from the center. “[The center] provided the transport here and it certainly worked fine,” said Mark Harrad, a spokesman for Time Warner Cable. He said it would be premature to comment about working with the center to any greater degree.

During the Tour de France in July, the center assumed an editorial role and produced 10-minute to 12-minute packages of tour highlights from the previous day. This month the center began producing on-demand content for college football games from the Big 10, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference, for which Comcast’s regional sports networks have the rights. The content includes the entire game the next day and a 10-minute to 15-minute recap.

“Part of the growth of the VOD category is not just to take something that was out yesterday and showing it again, but creating content that is very usable,” Mr. Weinraub said.