News

Fancast's Fans Are Engaged

3/21/2008 8:00 PM Eastern

Two months after Fancast's official launch, Comcast is pleasantly surprised — claiming the entertainment portal has proven to be far stickier than expected.

Comcast declined to provide figures on monthly visitors or page views to Fancast, which hosts a smorgasbord of more than 20,000 videos at any given time.

But in February, according to the company, Fancast blew away internal forecasts. Unique visitors topped expectations by 125% — and actual page views were 500% anticipated traffic for Fancast.

“We have very avid users,” Fancast general manager Alix Cottrell said. “The majority of them are high-speed data subscribers and their normal propensity is to view online videos.”

Plus, Cottrell said, more than 70% of its traffic to date is “organic traffic,” meaning users find Fancast on their own. The rest are directed to the site from Comcast.net.

The site is aiming to offer an average of 5,000 new videos per month. Most of its 100 content partners come via Hulu, the joint venture formed by NBC Universal and News Corp. that launched earlier this month.

The emphasis on scale is also evident in its entertainment-information database: Fancast provides details on 50,000 TV shows and 80,000 movies.

Of course, the entertainment portal is not supposed to be yet another agglomeration of video content on the Web.

“There are a lot of places to watch video online,” said Cottrell, who joined Comcast in 2006 from America Online. “This is an online tool for people to manage their entertainment experiences.”

The strategy is to let anyone — not just Comcast cable customers — find what they want to watch, wherever that happens to be: the Web; cable, satellite or telco TV services; iTunes or Netflix; video-on-demand; or movie theaters.

Another key Fancast ingredient is personalization. Over time, the site attempts to learn someone's entertainment predilections (if they've registered), like the recommendation engines provided by Amazon.com and Netflix.

“We're creating a customized homepage for each viewer coming to the site,” Cottrell said.

And Comcast soon wants to let its cable customers program their digital video recorders directly from Fancast, adding new shows the site recommends. The feature is scheduled to be available to Comcast cable subscribers before year-end, and the Philadelphia-based multiple-system operator is in discussions with its peers about enabling the feature from Fancast for their own DVRs.

Also in store is a “bookmarking” feature, slated for 2009, to let Fancast members maintain a list of VOD content they want to watch that is stored on their digital cable set-tops.

“We'd prefer you watch video on our site — we're an ad-supported business,” Cottrell said. “But our first priority is connecting you to wherever the content is.”

March