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Roberts Spurs Comcast to Innovate

5/18/2003 8:00 PM Eastern

With ample technology fuel to work with, Comcast Corp. plans to hit the innovation accelerator as it pushes forward with new services including high-definition TV, video-on-demand and high-speed data.

That's the message Comcast president and CEO Brian Roberts drove home in his keynote address to the Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers' Cable-Tec Expo here last Monday. (More SCTV coverage, p. 41)

In particular, Roberts told the crowd his company needs to change direction when it comes to its technology philosophy.

"Comcast needs to genetically rewire for innovation," he said. "We have been a fast follower, and we now need to rewire ourselves and take some risks."

That might include expanding beyond a single 6-megahertz channel for high-speed data. "I think we should be pushing ourselves, even if it means we have to devote more bandwidth, because this product is a platform," Roberts said. "We are going up the hockey stick. We should not be satisfied with [1.5 megabits per second] of speed."

The MSO is also focusing on the technology surrounding HDTV. Led by senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz, Comcast has been assuming a point position to create a plug-and-play agreement between the cable and consumer-electronics industries, paving the way for one-way cable-ready devices, including HDTV sets available at retail.

Given the accelerating market for HDTV — and the possibility of sub-$1,000 HDTV sets by Christmas — the technology planks established in the agreements were vital, Roberts said.

"But the real work is to get a two-way deal for two-way devices, which, as we know, is our future, so you can literally have it work with all of the devices in the house," he added. "This is good for cable, good for the CE manufacturers, good for retail and great for the consumer."

Comcast is also "putting down the pedal" with capital expenditures to upgrade its cable network, particularly in the newly acquired AT&T Broadband territories.

Roberts pointed to Comcast's plan to spend $4 billion this year on plant upgrades, rebuilding 46,000 miles of cable plant by the end of 2003. "And we are on track to beat that," he said.

"So when the economic recovery comes, while others have pulled back on capital and slowed down, this industry will come out of the recession further ahead of our competitors and further ready and able to take advantage of the new products I think we are developing."

He also noted Comcast was concentrating on customer-care systems, with plans to build eight new call centers at $10 million to $20 million apiece as well as renovating another seven facilities.

The goal is to handle 100 percent of all video-related customer calls in the local market by the end of the year, Roberts said.

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