Comcast Is Not Going 'Over the Top' With IPTV Test

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At least — not yet.

Comcast will test an IPTV system on the MIT campus this coming fall, delivering live TV programming to computers or Internet-connected TVs, The Wall Street Journalreported.

A source close to Comcast confirmed the MIT test but emphasized that the video is not traversing the public Internet. The MIT test is “over the private, managed network,” the exec said.

Also, the source stressed that the MSO has no plans to launch a video service “out of footprint” — i.e., go over the top and compete against other cable operators. But it is definitely an idea Comcast has been kicking around internally.

Comcast is not sharing many technical details of the IP video test. Conceptually, it’s akin to the way Time Warner Cable and Cablevision are delivering live TV channels to iPad apps, to subscribers in their own homes, through DOCSIS cable modems. That raised the ire of some programmers, who complained that distribution to non-TV devices wasn’t covered under their existing carriage deals; i.e., they want higher fees and/or other concessions. (See Time Warner Cable v. Viacom: Who’s Right?, Time Warner Cable Seeks Court Ruling To Approve iPad App For Viacom Nets and Cablevision iPad Video App Debuts With 280-Plus Channels, VOD.)

In the MIT test, Comcast isn’t looking to get approval from programmers “because the scope of the trial is limited,” according to the WSJ.

I think the horse is more than halfway out of the barn on this question. Note that CableLabs has demonstrated tru2way-based set-tops delivering video to DLNA-compatible devices over a home MoCA network — no reason that couldn’t be a tablet or PC. Sorry, Viacom (see Tru2way: Cable’s Path to IP Video?).

Separately, Comcast is testing Xfinity Spectrum (a.k.a. “Xcalibur”), a service that blends TV programming with Internet content including Twitter and Facebook info, using Pace RNG 210N boxes in a few dozen homes in Augusta, Ga. A previous version of the service provided access to some YouTube clips and e-mail but those features have been removed in the current iteration of the Xcalibur test.

The Xfinity Spectrum service features a redesigned interactive program guide lets users search for program titles, actors, sports teams and genres (see Pace Powers Comcast’s ‘Xfinity Spectrum’ Net-Enabled TV Trial and Comcast’s Web Slinger).

The Xcalibur project is being overseen by Sam Schwartz, president of the Comcast Converged Products group, which also is running the MIT test. Schwartz posted a blog discussing Xcalibur yesterday on Comcast Voices, probably to coincide with the Journal piece.

“By leveraging IP technology and our own ‘cloud’ servers in our network, we’re going to bring you a user experience on television that makes it easier to search and select from tens of thousands of choices and makes the television screen personal, useful and fun,” Schwartz wrote. “With Xcalibur, your TV will reflect your interests, favorite TV series, sports teams, movies and music.”

Meanwhile, why MIT? It’s not clear. Maybe for the perceived PR value. Or because Comcast can set up a dedicated IPTV headend on the college network more easily than in a residential neighborhood.

Or, maybe the idea is that because college kids apparently don’t really “watch TV” the way us old folks do, (a) they’ll complain less about any glitches in the system and/or (b) Comcast wants to demonstrate that it can reach that crowd with the new approach.

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Programming Note: Sign up for the free webinar Building the Next-Gen Internet: How to Manage the Move to IPv6 on June 22, 2 p.m. EDT. Speakers include Comcast’s John Brzozowski; Cox’s Jeff Finkelstein; Cisco fellow Fred Baker; and ARIN’s John Curran. More info: www.multichannel.com/ipv6.

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