New York – Next TV Summit - Comcast is starting to test authentication with “certain programmers” on the Apple TV and Roku platforms as part of the operator’s strategy to explore additional TV Everywhere avenues, Matt Strauss, Comcast Cable’s senior vice president and general manager, video services, said here Wednesday during his morning keynote.
Strauss (pictured at left) didn’t say when Comcast intends to open up access on those platforms, but the broad strategy, he said during a discussion with Multichannel News executive editor Kent Gibbons, is to focus efforts on platforms that have high consumption, including PCs and iOS- and Android-powered smartphones and tablets. Among recent examples, Comcast has yet to enable authentication for the HBO GO app on Roku devices or the PlayStation 3.
Comcast also announced today that it just expanded the number of live channels offered out-of-the-home via its Xfinity TV Go app to 53.
During the keynote, Strauss also highlighted and demonstrated X1, the operator’s IP-capable next-gen video platform. Comcast’s new, enhanced version of X1, internally labeled as “X2,” will deliver a common look and feel across the TV and mobile devices.
That’s coming into view as the experience becomes integrated rather than being plunked into separate silos. “Video will essentially become available across platforms,” Strauss said. “Anything that can deliver video securely is a TV.”
With X1, Comcast is seeing a blurring of lines between live TV, on-demand and the DVR. “At the end of the day, these are just choices to the customer,” Strauss said.
To amplify that, Comcast is starting to steer itself away from the DVR nomenclature. The DVR, Strauss said, “is just a personalized list of shows.”
Comcast’s X1, for example, will feature a “Saved” category that co-mingles what’s stored on the DVR, recently watched on VOD, and purchased through the operator’s electronic sell-through product.”
The Saved folder, Strauss said, “could be the first thing customers will go to.”
X1 is also serving up content more contextually, offering seven “guides” sorted by kids and sports programming, what’s buzzing on social media, or highlighted by a recommendations engine. A coming eighth “favorites” guide is in the works.
Comcast has X1 available across its systems, but only about one-third of those subscribers have access to the enhanced version of the cloud-based platform, which is being delivered through software upgrades. Strauss said most X1 customers should get it by the end of the second quarter of 2014.
Clarification: Comcast chief software architect Sree Kotay noted via Twitter on Friday (March 21) that the new, enhanced version of X1 is "in use" among about one-third of X1 customers, and that it's available to all X1 customers. Upgrades will be "opt-in" for a while yet.
Comcast is also ramping up a new cloud services component for X1 that features in-home IP streaming access to the full live TV lineup and a cloud DVR that lets customers sideload recordings to mobile devices and view them on the go.
“It treats any device in the home as a TV,” Strauss said.
Comcast has debuted those new cloud-based capabilities in Boston, and is “prioritizing some of our largest markets first" as it looks to expand access, Strauss said. The current plan is to make it available to a “good portion of our footprint” this year, he said.
Strauss was also asked to address its new EST deal with Sony that will allow the operator to start selling season one of Netflix original House Of Cards. “The goal is simple; we want to offer customers more choice,” he said, noting that the aim is to provide content in as many release windows as possible.
On the 4K front, Comcast is preparing to offer an OTT app on new Samsung Ultra HD models later this year that will offer a limited menu of 4K fare.
Strauss said Comcast is confident that it has the infrastructure to deliver 4K as the market grows. He said the Xi3, an IP-only client device that is part of the X1 family that runs the Reference Design Kit software stack, will support 4K.
Looking ahead on video, he said the next big focus will be on delivering a personalized experience. With the new guide, “we can start to build relationships with each individual in the home,” he said.
Meanwhile, Comcast is already seeing meaningful results with X1 as it expands its reach. Strauss said the operator is seeing a 25% to 26% increase in VOD consumption among customers on X1 platform.