Comcast Plunges Into DVR, Gaming

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Picking up on the "get-innovative" theme CEO Brian Roberts espoused last week, Comcast Corp. announced an in-home multitelevision digital-video-recording trial with Samsung Electronics Co. and Ucentric Systems . It also struck broadband gaming deals with IGN Entertainment and Real Networks.

The DVR deal is part of a multipronged approach to both video-on-demand and DVRs. Chief technology officer David Fellows – who, like Roberts, spoke at the Cable-Tec Expo in Philadelphia — said Comcast is interested in both network-based and in-home DVR solutions.

Comcast recently extended a contract with Motorola Broadband Communications Sector for new set-top boxes, including a line of DVR- and DVR/HDTV-capable set-tops that Fellows indicated Comcast would test later this year.

Twist on DVR

The Samsung-Ucentric deal puts a slightly different spin on the DVR issue, by tying together devices in a home network that could share video stored on a DVR across various TV sets in the home.

Comcast will use a Samsung digital set-top that incorporates Ucentric's DVR and home-media-networking software in a Philadelphia-area trial set to begin this summer.

The trial will allow consumers to view regular television and record programming on hard-drive space. Consumers will be able to control individual recordings from a single in-home library across multiple TVs sets.

Ucentric said its software also allows MSOs to offer music jukebox, photo album and other revenue generating services.

The Real Networks deal involves the company's Real One Arcade service, which includes 130 PC-based games, ranging from Solitaire and Mahjongg to Jigsaw Puzzle, Bookworm Deluxe, Gutterball 3D and rebound.

'Comcast arcade'

Comcast plans to rebrand the gaming package Comcast Arcade and offer it to its 4 million high-speed Internet subscribers. Subscribers can play any game for free for one hour. Games can be purchased by consumers in perpetuity for $10 to $20, Real said. There is also a $6.95 monthly subscription service that Real offers.

Comcast isn't new to online gaming, having come on board as a preferred partner for Microsoft Corp.'s X-Box when it debuted last year. The Real Networks deal is part of a Comcast initiative to establish its position as a broadband destination as cable-modem service moves from early adopters to attract more mainstream users.

"Obviously we are fairly passionate that broadband is the ideal platform for gaming, and you will see us positioning ourselves to reach online gamers," Greg Butz, Comcast's vice president of marketing and business development, said last week. "IGN is the best in breed for gaming, so we want to partner up with them."

Bid deal for Real

For Real, it's the first major MSO deal for content among its package of services. The company is in the midst of acquiring Listen.com, which sells music services to Charter Communications, Cablevision Systems Corp., RoadRunner and Verizon Online.

"We have a variety of products and different operators have different interest levels of launching," said Dan Sheehan, vice president, marketing at Real.

Real Networks counts more than 1 million subscribers to its various subscription services, led by SuperPass, which includes various news, sports and entertainment content. "We'd love to see Comcast work with us on other products," Sheehan said, "One step at a time."

Sheehan said MSOs can go through Real's various subscription services and choose what content they want to offer. Real One Arcade, for instance, is available as part of SuperPass and as a standalone service.

Some MSOs may shy away from parts of SuperPass because some content, like CNN video, also appears on cable's linear lineup. But Sheehan points out that Real has exclusive, non-cable product, such as the outer-market games from Major League Baseball. "We can disaggregate our content to make your business model work," he said.

An older demo

Sheehan said Real One Arcade is not intended for the 20-something hard-core gamer, but rather the 30- to 50-year-old, head of household who pays the cable-modem bill.

As such, strategy, puzzle, word and card games are the most popular games on Real One Arcade.

Because Real One Arcade games are downloaded and played on the PC without streaming, Real won't likely need to cache content at Comcast headends, Sheehan said.

Sheehan said since Real One Arcade was launched last December, 15 million clients were downloaded and 45 million games were downloaded. The service is downloading an average of 140,000 games a day.

The IGN Entertainment deal involves the company's gaming news, reviews and previews that also will be part of www.Comcast.net. IGN provides free and subscription-based gaming content and services. IGN's site boasts 5.7 million registered users and 76,000 paying subscribers.

Karen Brown contributed to this report.

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