How Much 'TV Everywhere' Will Comcast's Caps Allow?

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My estimate: almost 500 hours per month.

Comcast last week announced it would initiate a trial next month to provide full-length episodes from Time Warner Inc.’s TNT and TBS and other networks, to customers who already pay for cable TV and broadband. (See Comcast, Time Warner Inc. Try To Blend Online TV Models, Nets Jump Into Comcast’s Online VOD Trial and TV Everywhere: The Ball Gets Rolling.)

The MSO’s executives noted that the Web video watched through the service will count toward the overall 250-Gbyte per month usage limit, which the operator instituted last fall (see Comcast Sets Bandwidth Limit).

So how much online TV does that let you watch?

According to my calculations, 250 Gbytes is enough for some 496 hours of high-quality video streaming, or the equivalent of 20 days of around-the-clock online-video watching.

To arrive at that figure, I accessed three different episodes on ABC.com, which uses the video player from Move Networks, the same player Comcast says it’s using in its test.

I accessed the “HD” versions of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars Season Finale (42:37 minutes), Desperate Housewives, Season 5 Finale Part 1 (43:30 minutes), and Ugly Betty, Season 3 Finale Part 1 (43:30 minutes). High-definition in this case isn’t broadcast-quality HD (see How ABC.com Plans to Deliver HD Online); the bit rates I was hitting over a Cablevision Optimum Online connection for each episode were 1.091 Mbps, 974 Kbps and 1.031 Mbps, respectively.

Video-encoding bit rates vary widely, but it’s safe to assume Comcast and Time Warner Inc. would want to at least match the best-quality broadcast service currently available Internet video service that broadcasters currently offer.

Using a bandwidth meter, I measured the amount of bandwidth needed for each episode (including ads) and arrived at 371.2 Mbytes for Dancing With the Stars, 341.5 Mbytes for Desperate Housewives, and 375.8 Mbytes for Ugly Betty. That’s an average of 504 Mbytes per hour of video.

Of course, if you have lower caps you’re going to run out of gas sooner — Time Warner Cable’s planned expansion of usage-based billing tests to four markets (scrapped after a backlash) included caps ranging from 10 to 60 Gbytes. With 10 Gigs, you’d only get around 19.8 hours of “TV Everywhere.”

But for Comcast, the 250-Gbyte ceiling seems pretty ample, at first glance.

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