Comcast Corp. cable-modem customers will soon see a change in scenery, as the MSO introduces the first in a series of Web portal upgrades that focus less on the pipe and more on what it delivers.
It's a change made necessary as the broadband market moves to more of a "show me the value" mainstream audience, according to vice president of marketing and business development Greg Butz.
Up to now, Comcast's marketing strategy has focused on speed-loving early adopters, emphasizing the advantages of broadband throughput delivered over an always-on connection.
But as Comcast and the broadband industry both try to reach more into the mainstream Internet public, the sales pitch — and the content product — needs to change.
"This is all about positioning," Butz said as he viewed a mock-up of the new Web portal. "We've been extremely successful competing on speed and always-on, and the breadth of our distribution. Now what you will see us doing is how do we evolve from always on to ease of use and simplicity."
That's not a trivial matter, given the growth projections for Comcast's High-Speed Internet cable-modem service.
The MSO recently upped its cable-modem customer projections, raising them from 5 million to 5.2 million subscribers by the end of 2003.
Comcast research indicates that 25% of dial-up customers will consider signing on to cable-modem service in the next 12 months.
Coming July 1
"We don't see a change in the growth, but as broadband content and applications play out, we want to make sure we are positioned to capitalize on that growth," Butz said.
Thus, on July 1 Comcast will debut a new Web portal design, with expanded content offerings. It also will reflect the fact it supports a broadband service, ditching text-heavy presentations in favor of more video and multimedia elements, including a built-in video browser and audio-and-video search capabilities.
A major part of the July 1 upgrade is a souped-up gaming channel, courtesy of two deals struck with major online gaming providers.
First, the MSO struck a deal with IGN.com to bring IGN's game news, reviews and previews to the online games channel.
It also has forged a deal with Real Networks Inc. to offer a Comcast-branded version of its RealOne Arcade service, which offers more than 130 PC games ranging from Solitaire to Mahjongg and Bookwork Deluxe. Under the moniker Comcast Arcade, the service will allow users to sample and purchase games, and it will offer exclusive game titles from RealOne Arcade.
These are not the first steps into the gaming realm for Comcast. The MSO has long targeted gamers as a strong broadband market segment, and it already is a preferred service provider for Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox gaming platform. The strategy is to strengthen content categories such as gaming through such partnerships, according to Butz.
"We do not create content, but obviously we've got a number of partners," he said. "Comcast.net is important to us because it is an online aggregator."
The July site debut won't be the final iteration of Comcast.net. The site will evolve, Butz noted, with plans already in the works for more additions this fall. Future improvements include enhanced security and personalization options, and a general drive to make the portal easier and more intuitive to use, Butz said. Again, that is all aimed at a mainstream audience.
"Americans when they wake up want to see what they want, when they want and how they want," he said. "Americans demand convenience."