Comcast Swells Web-TV Roster


Comcast has secured the participation of 23 networks — including CBS and HBO — for its test of On Demand Online, but some of the biggest cable programmers are sitting on the sidelines for now.

The cable operator was looking to demonstrate a groundswell of support from programmers for the concept: a service that gives cable TV subscribers a wealth of additional content online as part of the monthly cable bill.

Last week Comcast said it will provide select TV shows and movies from CBS, HBO and Cinemax, Scripps Networks, Rainbow Media, A&E Television Networks, Comcast Networks, Hallmark Channel, MGM Impact and BBC America. That’s in addition to three previously announced programmers, TNT, TBS and Starz Entertainment.

The fact that nearly two dozen networks have bought into the trial “highlights the industry’s growing interest to bring long-form content to consumers via a secure and easy to use online platform,” Comcast executive vice president of content acquisition Matt Bond said in announcing the agreements.

The MSO initially will provide video through and to 5,000 customers nationwide who subscribe to both cable TV and broadband services.

The lineup, however, is missing some notable TV brands. At this point, major programmers that have not indicated whether they’ll be in the mix include Viacom’s MTV Networks, whose properties include Nickelodeon and Comedy Central; NBC Universal, which owns USA Network and Bravo; Discovery Communications; News Corp.’s Fox; and Disney/ABC Television Group.

And analysts said there are still more questions than answers.

“Are the programmers giving up too much out of fear to the cable operators too quickly?” said Michael Greeson, president of research and consulting firm The Diffusion Group. “The nature of the revenue relationships [between content owners and distributors] is going to be as complicated as the TV relationships are.”

Besides the business issues, “the biggest questions are going to be all around the trials themselves — how well the authentication process works, whether that will be a barrier to user adoption,” said Screen Digest digital media research director Arash Amel.

Comcast’s first broadcast partner for the trial, CBS, already distributes some shows through Fancast. CBS did not specify which programming it would provide to On Demand Online but said it “plans to test various types of current and library content.”

CBS notably is the only major broadcaster that has not taken part in Hulu, the joint venture whose owners include News Corp., The Walt Disney Co. and NBC Universal. CBS-owned Showtime Networks is not currently involved with On Demand Online but spokesman Stu Zakim said it is engaged in talks with Comcast about participating.

HBO, meanwhile, said it will provide some 750 hours of current and older original series — including Hung, Entourage, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Sex and the City and The Sopranos — and movies including Transformers, The Dark Knight, Jurassic Park, Big, Speed and Rosemary’s Baby.

Other full-length episodes to be part of On Demand Online include: WE TV’s Bridezillas, History’s Ice Road Truckers, E!’s Keeping Up with the Kardashians, and Food Network’s Cooking for Real, as well as AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad in the coming months.

Comcast expects to launch On Demand Online nationwide to all customers as soon as the fourth quarter of 2009, assuming the technical trials are successful.

The general concept, at least, appears to be attractive to consumers.

About 73% of 500 Comcast and Time Warner Cable subscribers surveyed by research firm Solutions Research Group this summer agreed that TV Everywhere services — which promise access to a wealth of video online for no extra charge — are an “excellent” or “good” idea.

The top 10 channels respondents said they wanted to access in full over the Web at home were ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox — followed by ESPN, HBO, CNN, Discovery Channel, History Channel and Syfy.

The operator so far has 23 networks on board for On Demand Online:

Who’s In: CBS; Time Warner Inc. (TNT, TBS, HBO, Cinemax); Starz Entertainment; Scripps Networks (Food Network, HGTV, DIY Network, Fine Living Network); Cablevision Systems’ Rainbow Media (AMC, IFC, WE TV, Sundance Channel); A&E Television Networks (A&E, History Channel); Comcast Networks (E!, Style Network, G4, FearNet); Hallmark Channel; MGM Impact; BBC America

Who’s Not: Viacom’s MTV Networks; NBC Universal; News Corp.’s Fox; Disney/ABC Television Group; Discovery Communications; Showtime Networks