Philly Testbed Yields Comcast Data


Comcast Corp.'s hometown test bed for advanced video services has provided some useful information, as the MSO plans to widen its video-on-demand and HDTV offerings nationwide.

Since the November launch, Comcast has seen some interesting VOD usage patterns emerge, according W. William Beitel, general manager for the operator's Philadelphia area.

The lineup

The Philadelphia cluster is divided into five systems. In some of them, 50% of digital subscribers have tried VOD. Of the customers who have tried it, 80% have become repeat users.

The VOD service provides 1,500 hours of content, a mix of free and paid titles through In Demand. Paid offerings range from $2.95 to $3.95 per 24-hour rental. Free content includes children's programming, lifestyles, music video, Turner Classic Movies fare and the morning and evening newscasts from local NBC owned-and-operated station WCAU, as well as the NBC Nightly News With Tom Brokaw, Dateline NBC
and Meet the Press.

The news shows are encoded and available on VOD immediately after they air.

Subscribers to Showtime also can access on-demand content from the premium channel at no extra cost.

The most popular content has been children's programming, music videos and movies, according to Comcast's early usage data.

Of those who have plugged into the VOD service, Comcast is finding what they watch depends on where they live.

"What we are seeing in the city is about 90% of the subscribers use the free content. In the suburbs it is more like 80% or 70%," Beitel said.

Comcast has also experimented with locally generated content, in partnership with Scripps Networks. "Philly On Demand," which debuted April 21, brings free, localized Home & Garden Television and Food Network content, including profiles of local restaurants and virtual tours of historic homes. Plans are to eventually add local sports and local-interest stories.

23,000 for HD

Meanwhile, Comcast's HD service now includes Home Box Office, Showtime, Comcast SportsNet and the local ABC, NBC and PBS stations.

The service has drawn 23,000 customers from among the
Philadelphia DMA's 600,000 digital households. In just one of Philadelphia's five service areas, between 15 and 20 HD boxes are installed per week, Beitel said.

"It seems like we are getting more and more people calling," he said.