On Demand Summit: Strauss Says 'Personalization' Is Key at Comcast

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Comcast's executive overseeing multiplatform video development says making TV a "personalized" experience is crucial in what's already become an on-demand world.

One reason digital video recorders are so popular is they are easy to use and make it easy to find shows people want to watch, Matthew Strauss, senior vice president of digital and emerging platforms at Comcast, said, and that's also true for using smart phones and tablets.

Comcast, after years of building what Strauss called "the best content library on the planet," has been able to make TV more personalized through a Web portal (XfinityTV.com), a tablet app and a new on-screen guide, X1, that's easier for customers to use and for Comcast to update quickly, he said.

Matt Strauss of Comcast

"From our point of view, it requires a shift in how we think of our products. It's moving away from a household kind of relationship to creating an individual relationship with each person in the household and being able to deliver on a highly personalized and targeted experience."

Internally, Comcast helped address that evolution by combining into one video group former business units that addressed Web video, set-top video and mobile video, he said. "It's not about platforms any more, it's video everywhere."

Comcast's cable CEO, Neil Smit, has set an aggressive roadmap for new product rollouts, which led to some 19 new products launched last year, Strauss said. Smit also demands milestones be hit on availability to customers and how frequently they use it.

Speaking at the On Demand Summit, Strauss said on-demand has evolved from something used mostly to view Japanese anime and music videos into something that 70% of all digital-TV customers use frequently, to the tune of 350-400 million views per month. "That is 400 million times that people are not watching traditional TV."

Comcast really pioneered the concept of free videos to add value to the digital subscription. It's grown to the point where programmers want to get more of their content on demand, Strauss said.

When CEO Brian Roberts, in 2008, said Comcast wanted to make every piece of content ever made available on demand, "that goal set the course for where we think the world is going," Strauss said.

"Navigation has been one of our biggest challenges," he said. Solutions have come in the form of smartphones and tablet apps, increasingly being used to find favorite shows, set the DVR remotely and even change what channel the set-top is tuned to. "We see this a lot where people are changing the channel on their spouse," say, from work.

Advertising has been the one aspect of free VOD that has lagged, Strauss said, but that is improving with the deployment of digital ad-insertion technology (making it easier to switch ads in and out) and with ads in VOD shows being measured by Nielsen's C3 commercial-rating system.

All of these on-demand product improvements, Strauss said, are aimed at driving multi-product bundles into more homes in Comcast markets. The cable company has about 22 million customers, but could potentially reach 50 million in its footprint, he said.

Strauss was interviewed at the On Demand Summit by Multichannel News editor in chief Mark Robichaux. The event was sponsored by Multichannel News and B&C.