Roberts Woos Wall Street, Consumer Electronics Firms


LAS VEGAS -- In a message aimed at both Wall Street and the consumer electronics industry, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts Tuesday detailed his company’s future roadmap for convergence and competition, “Comcast 3.0.”

Roberts offered the plan, which includes ramping up to 1,000 HDTV offerings by the end of the year, during a morning keynote address at the 2008 Consumer Electronics Show, the first such keynote by a cable company chief.

Roberts said the four legs of Comcast 3.0 are its fiber-optic network, superior HDTV, customer service and leadership in innovation.

 “When we make good on these four commitments, I believe that consumers – and all the companies in this room, including Comcast – will have a terrific future together, with an unimaginable array of new products and services,” he said.

He also used the podium to pitch tru2way, or cable’s preferred specifications for an open platform, to the crowd.

“The tru2way platform will turn the ‘cable market’ into a single market – not just the hundred million homes passed by cable in the U.S., but all around the world,” Roberts said. “Tru2way technology opens cable to innovation by applications developers and consumer electronics companies. This is a totally different business model.”

According to Roberts, Comcast is “committed to being the leader in innovation – and that means an expanded partnership with the consumer electronics, PC, software and Internet industries – and with retailers. With this partnership, we will build and sell new products and services that are converged, plug-and-play, user-friendly, and most important, easily open for third-party innovation.”

Roberts devoted a good portion of his speech talking about Comcast’s plan to give consumers more than 1,000 HD choices in 2008, its strategy to begin adding additional HD movies, as well as announcing Project Infinity – its vision to give consumers the ability to watch any movie, TV show, user generated content or other video that a producer wants to make available On Demand.

That effort comes as cable’s archrivals, satellite providers, have greatly expanded, or plan to expand, their HD lineups. DirecTV has more than 80 HD national networks, with plans to hit 100, and Monday Dish Network announced it will have 100 HD networks by the end of this year.

In his address, Roberts said, “What satellite says they’ll offer … pales by comparison.”

Roberts was clearly trying to make an impression on Wall Street -- which has battered cable stocks -- as well as making his pitch on tru2way to consumer-electronic manufacturers.

Comcast stock was hit hard last year – it fell 35% or $10.18 a share – amid fears on Wall Street stemming from subscriber losses (it shed 85,000 basic subscribers in the first nine months of the year), increased capital spending and the better-than-expected competitive performance of the telcos.

On Tuesday morning, before Roberts delivered his address, Comcast ran a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal boasting about its plans to have more than 1,000 HD shows and movies “coming soon to a couch near you.”

In Las Vegas, Roberts told a packed audience that Comcast will deploy “wideband,” DOCSIS 3.0, in 2008, and will widely distribute TiVo across its systems.

“The great news is that we’ll have DOCSIS 3.0 rolled out in front of millions of homes in Comcast service areas by the end of this year,” he said. “This will let us deliver speeds of up to 100 megabits per second over the next two years.”

Toshihiro Sakamoto, president of Panasonic AVC Networks, which is partnering with Comcast on “AnyPlay,” a portable DVR-DVD player, appeared during Roberts’ address to show off the device.

Roberts also brought on some talent from Comcast-owned networks, namely Ryan Seacrest of E! Entertainment Television and Fox’s American Idol and Dennis Miller (via a clip) of Versus. The stars of HBO’s Flight of the Concords also performed a song.

Miller offered a demonstration of Comcast’s SmartZone, which lets users check their home voicemail and email online from a PC, no matter where they are.

“This is like the feature you may have seen on the iPhone – now it’s available for your landline phone,” Roberts said.

He closed his remarks by saying, “In order to innovate faster … our cable systems must have an open architecture – not closed. We must be the technology leader. We must provide more consumer choice than anyone … At future CES shows, you’re going to see cable everywhere – because we’re leading the way into a converged, personalized world.”