Click through for photos of Comcast Spotlight bringing the Stanley Cup to Chicago clients, Starz's first Investor Day and more events for the week of Dec. 2.
Comcast’s Big Data Perspective in Prep for NBC Streaming
A senior Comcast executive complained to me about a session on “Big Data” that I moderated at The Cable Show. He had hoped that the speakers would offer him ideas about the scale for the capacity he’ll have to build to handle the growing flow of streaming digital content. He was disappointed that they only pitched the capabilities of their ventures – not the terabytes of data that their services will require.
When I mentioned this conversation to a communications attorney pal a few days later, he opined that Comcast’s real interest in data capacity stems from the looming inclusion of NBC network video content streamed through its infrastructure. The lawyer cited a provision of the Comcast-NBC Universal merger last year that prohibited Comcast from streaming NBC network shows – at least not until another TV network was streaming its content.
Hence, the debut of “ABC Watch,” a live streaming service now being tested in New York and Philadelphia, has opened the door for Comcast to stream NBC programs. By convenient coincidence the first ABC Watch markets are the headquarters cities of Comcast and NBC. In addition, Stephen Burke, Comcast executive vice president and NBCU CEO, previously served as president of ABC Broadcasting.
That’s a nice series of relationships falling into place.
Comcast has not yet revealed its plans to stream NBC shows – perhaps in respect (for now) to the soon-to-be apoplectic broadcast network affiliates. In fact, during this week’s Multichannel News/Broadcasting & Cable "Sports Business and Technology Summit" in New York, NBC Sports Group chairman Mark Lazarus coyly avoided specific references to putting NBC’s hockey, 2014 Olympics and other sports events onto a Comcast streaming feed. Lazarus focused on TV Everywhere and acknowledged that “our parent company and all distributors and programmers” are developing ways to deliver high-value content to authenticated viewers. Lazarus said that NBC Sports Group expects to complete deals with AT&T, Cox, Charter, and DirecTV soon – carefully avoiding any reference to Comcast’s streaming plans.
So let’s go back to the Comcast concern – in common with other MSOs – about what Big Data, especially two-way data feeds – will mean to network capacity. Although the executive attending The Cable Show session may have been disappointed not to get specific details, in truth Comcast appears to be readying – and managing – whatever bandwidth will be needed. For example, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts’ Cable Show presentation of the Xfinity X2 upgrade, a masterful pitch from a $29-million (annual income) “salesman,” encompassed the capability to search for and watch shows that arrive via Internet streams as well as linear and conventional on-demand delivery.
In contrast, the convention’s “Big Data Bazinga” session – fundamentally a pitch hour in the Imagine Park showcase – simply offered a glimpse of how a couple vendors envision use of bandwidth for services such as emotion recognition (a tool for advertisers and programmers) and for two-screen service delivered to tablets via home gateways. Their bandwidth requirements are minimal – but they do provide a reminder of the migration as data delivery begins to match and exceed the traditional video service.
Last week’s Pew Internet Project’s report about the boom in tablet usage (now 34% of American adults) further adds to capacity concerns, but largely at the home gateway and wireless node segments of the virtual pipeline. Among the most significant findings of the Pew study is the 49% penetration rate of tablets among adults in the 35 to 44 year old bracket – the prime advertising target audience.
As my disappointed Comcast executive knows very well, bandwidth demands will be extraordinary and can be managed. The enchanting factor in the current process is identifying the diverse factors – live streaming, sports delivery, data-gobbling innovations, wireless/gateway access and so much more – as they converge into the pipeline.
Sometimes, it’s obscure – but this time, not so much. It’s just big.