Burke Sees VOD, Sell-Through Opportunities


Comcast COO Steve Burke says the decline of the DVD business -- Hollywood's current "biggest challenge" -- is creating an "obvious solution" that the cable industry can provide: digital sell-through and video on demand.

"We think we'll be in a unique position to craft that solution," Burke said at the "All Things Digital" conference here  June 2, noting it's essential for cable companies to develop such delivery solutions.
"If we don't create that model, eventually every content producer will put their material on the Internet," he said.

Burke also addressed the issue of distribution windows timing.

Comcast COO Steve Burke

"If you look at windows that exist today, they've been narrow. You want to have different windows but they must have a purpose," he said.

Burke also voiced optimism about ongoing retransmission-consent negotiations. He acknowledged that the proposed Comcast-NBCU venture will be "on both sides" but he thinks that most broadcasters are finding ways to resolve their conflicts about the matter.

Throughout his remarks, Burke emphasized that the value of "content and distribution [that] are better together. Content and distribution don't naturally work together, unless we make them work together," Burke said.

He also expressed enthusiasm about the role of Hulu, which Comcast will partially own after the NBC-Universal acquisition is completed.

"Whether it's Hulu or Fancast [Comcast's own video replay service], people want their shows ... and are going to get their shows" anytime and everywhere, Burke said. He acknowledged that the ad-supported nature of the delivery remains to be seen."

Burke dismissed the competitive role of Google TV, calling such ventures "complementary. Our real competitors are satellite and telephone companies," he said. "To deliver the massive quantities of video, you really need an infrastructure that is facilities-based."

Burke said that although "we worry all the time," Comcast is not particularly nervous about cord-cutting -- noting that people prefer subscribing to a known multichannel video package. Internet viewing may destabilize the industry, but "my bet is that ten years from now, you'll have the same thing" as today.

Burke said that Comcast made the NBC-Universal offer at the ideal moment, just as ad revenues are coming back to network TV." But he acknowledged that NBC's cable channels "tend to be the best part" of the package.
"There is lots of upside we can do in marrying NBC with [our] other assets," he said. "The unique opportunity is to get wonderful cable channels that are very profitable" plus a studio, which adds up to a "very well rounded company."
Burke said that Comcast is prepared to spend sufficiently to build NBC video programming.
"We're not naïve. The first thing you do is invest ... spend the money necessary [to attract] creative talent," he said.

As the first speaker after Steve Jobs' opening presentation here, Burke led the parade of flattery for Apple's iPad, calling it a "pretty competitive" device. He cited Comcast CEO Brian Roberts' presentation at the recent Cable Show, using an iPad as a real-time program navigation guide, and said, "It will be great."

Burke said that he and Roberts visited Jobs at least five times in the past 10 years, often asking if Apple could build an interface for the cable operator. He said that Jobs always said "of course" but insisted that Comcast would have to "buy my hardware," which was not an appealing option for the MSO.

Burke repeated another Jobs description of the evolving market, calling it "balkanized," but he did not offer an outlook for industry development.

As for 3D TV, another theme at this event, Burke said, it is "definitely coming," but pointed out that another recent technology development - high definition TV, took more than a decade to develop a mainstream presence.

"HD has a different dynamic," Burke said, noting that "It remains to be seen what percentage of that viewing will be done in 3D"