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Comcast "TV Everywhere" Trial Run To Kick Off In Coming Weeks

Many video viewers are about to get thousands of hours of online network programming from an unexpected place: their cable TV provider.

Starting this month, Comcast will begin a unique trial into offering online access to premium cable programming. The company will send out e-mails to thousands of its subscribers asking if they'd like to take part in the trial, called On Demand Online, and 5,000 households from around the country will be selected. Trial participants will be able to log in through a Comcast.net or Fancast.com to view shows that would otherwise be available through their cable package.

News of the trial began on June 24, when Comcast and Time Warner Inc. announced a set of seven principles, called TV Everywhere, designed to make more premium content available online. At the same time, Comcast announced it would conduct a technical trial of authentication technologies so that it could securely offer streaming content. The idea behind the trial isn't to test the concept of streamed premium programming, but to work any bugs out of the authentication process.

While Comcast originally announced it would include TBS and TNT content in the online trial, 21 more cable networks have since signed on. Other participating networks include A&E, AMC, BBC America, Cinemax, CBS, DIY Network, E! Entertainment, FEARnet, Fine Living Network, Food Network, G4, Hallmark Channel, HBO, HGTV, History, IFC, MGM Impact, Starz, The Style Network, Sundance Channel, and WE TV.


Trial participants will be able to view any content they currently pay for through Comcast. HBO subscribers, then, will be able to view HBO content from their computer, while non-subscribers won't. Participants will be able to stream videos through a proprietary branded desktop player created by Move Networks, and that player will run on both Windows and Macintosh computers. Comcast isn't saying yet what format the streamed video will be in or what the bit rate will be, but it is saying that shows and movies will be available in both standard definition and high definition. The only technical requirement for participants is that they have a broadband Internet connection. While viewers won't be able to use the client software to save content or transfer it to a portable player, the company plans to offer those features some time in the future, says John Demming, director of corporate communications, financial communications.

Comcast is using thePlatform as the online video platform for the "TV Everywhere" initiative, as well as its Fancast service. thePlatform also runs video portals for Time Warner RoadRunner, Cablevision, and Cox.

From the start, study participants will have a large variety of online programming to choose from. HBO alone will offer over 750 hours of content, says Demming, and that amount will grow over time. Programming that has advertisements over cable TV will also have advertisements online, while commercial-free premium network programming will stay commercial-free.

How to best serve advertisements will also be a focus of the trial, says Demming. During the test period, Comcast will experiment with different ad types to see which viewers respond to best.

Comcast hasn't said how long the technical trial will last, but it's committed to rolling out the final product before the end of the year. At that time, all Comcast cable subscribers will be able to view programming online at no additional cost.

Whether or not such content will remain available without additional fees—and what the business model would be if it's not—is a matter of some debate and discussion; there's a good thread at Dan Rayburn's Business of Online Video blog here.

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