Roberts: VOD Stats Show Gains Over DBS

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Placing video-on-demand front and center in two key investor presentations over the past two weeks, Comcast Corp. CEO Brian Roberts reported the MSO’s customers doubled their VOD usage in the first nine months of 2004, and that digital-video disconnects fell 20% to 30% in VOD systems.

His statistics-heavy VOD message was clearly aimed at blunting the customer momentum satellite-TV providers DirecTV Inc. and EchoStar Communications Corp. enjoyed in the first six months of the year, at cable’s expense.

In January, Comcast customers accessed VOD programs 25 million times, with users in the average VOD-enabled home accessing content 14 times a month.

SPIKE IN SEPTEMBER

The count doubled to 50 million in September, with the average home accessing VOD 22 times, Roberts declared at a Goldman Sachs & Co.’s Communacopia conference last week.

HBO on Demand downloads accounted for 15 million of the 50 million in September, across a universe of 5 million digital set-tops, he said. Given the Home Box Office subscriber count in those systems is likely less than 5 million, the average subscriber was using HBO On Demand at least four times a month.

“Our HBO is better than DirecTV’s HBO,” Roberts said. “You can’t get that from satellite.”

Comcast subscribers dipped into the new “NFL on Demand” download service 600,000 times the first week of the season — and Roberts projected the service would be accessed 2.5 million times in the first month.

That’s more than the 1.5 million subscribers who buy the comprehensive “NFL Sunday Ticket” out-of-market package from DirecTV, Roberts said.

A new online dating service that lets singles check out other singles on VOD has been a hit in Philadelphia, he said. It was accessed 100,000 times the first week and 280,000 times the first month, he said.

The on-demand platform presently features 150 movies, he said. That’ll rise to 400 movies and 300 TV shows once the recent agreement with Sony Corp. kicks in. Sony is leading the investor group buying Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., which also includes Comcast.

NEW MOVIES WANTED

“We’re interested in new movies and new windows,” he said.

The Sony deal will help Comcast expand its VOD program lineup from 2,000 hours at present to 10,000 hours and even 20,000 hours over time, he said.

Roberts also said Comcast will launch “very shortly” a digital simulcast test, a step towards an “all-digital” system that would allow Comcast to eventually reclaim 72 analog channels.

“The cost of the next-generation digital box is sub-$100,” said Roberts, who added that such a set-top would feature a guide, access to VOD and cable-modem capabilities. Expect the cost to eventually fall below $75, he said.

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