Strauss: Comcast Eyes Video App Consolidation

App Will Adjust When Customer Is at Home, On the Go

Comcast is in the process of consolidating its video applications into a uniform, all-knowing app that will alter what content is available to customers whey they are in or out of the home, Matt Strauss, Comcast Cable’s EVP and GM of video services, said Wednesday during a keynote at the Wells Fargo Tech, Media & Telecom conference in New York.

The resulting app, he explained, will apply the content rights that are part of the customer’s subscription when streaming via the home network or  when connected on the go via  WiFi of cellular.

Today, Comcast accomplishes that with two different apps. The Xfinity TV replicates the in-home offering, including linear and VOD lineup, while Xfinity TV Go has access to content with TV Everywhere rights (a subset of VOD fare and about 100 live TV channels, plus, for X1 subs, shows recorded to the Comcast Cloud DVR).

Strauss didn’t say when the new, all-singing/all-dancing app will become available, but said the plan is for the app to convert itself to the TVE app when a customer is off the home network.

Strauss also offered some new TVE stats, noting that Xfinity TV Go has been downloaded about 18 million times, and that about a third of Comcast’s subs are using it, with customer using it eight hours per month on average.

The Comcast exec also discussed broader video trends, offering an assessment of the overall health of the pay TV industry. While Comcast has reduced its video losses, that’s not the goal.

Comcast, he said, is “not content” to lose less, but to turn the corner and restore it to the point of meaningful growth.

“We don’t come into the office just looking to reduce the loss,” he said, noting that it’s fair to say that live TV  consumption has declined, but the amount of  video being consumed via other means, like VOD, DVR and streaming, is actually rising. “It’s just being consumed differently.”

To get back in the black, he said Comcast has been getting a better fix on how consumers are viewing content, and being more “surgical” on how the MSO offers different products to different customer categories.

A recent example is Stream TV, a “mobile-first” service for broadband subs that offers the major broadcast channels , HBO, VOD, some TVE and access to a the cloud DVR (with enough space to hold 20 hours of programming).  That offering, launched today in Boston, costs $15 per month.

But the bigger focus is on X1, Comcast primary IP-based video platform  that aims to reduce the fragmentation and friction between DVR, VOD and live.  “X1 has been transformative for us,” he said, noting that VOD usage on X1 is 45% higher than on Comcast’s legacy video platform. About 25% of Comcast’s video sub base is now on X1.

And X1 will be “bigger than video,” as it connects to other devices, he said. On that point, Comcast has developed its own smart home platform that will tie into X1.

Strauss acknowledged that Comcast must be careful not to cannibalize its base video offerings with slimmed –down offerings like Stream TV and Internet Plus.

“You have to monitor that very, very closely,” he said. “This isn’t about putting things in the market to get consumers to downgrade.”

Comcast is trying to mitigate that risk with how it constructs these new packages. For instance, Stream TV is a mobile-first product that supports two simultaneous streams per subscriber, not exactly an offering that would be right for a family of four.

As for Internet Plus, a product that’s been out for a couple of years, Comcast has seen about 30% of those subs upgrade after the promo period runs its 12-month course.

Comcast is also experimenting in other ways, including some with corporate cousin NBCUniversal.

As one example, Comcast and USA offered Playing House in its normal live window, then let viewers watch the next episode on demand a week early with the full ad load and the fast-forward function disabled. In that trial, 30% of the DVR audience for that show moved to the earlier VOD window.

“You have to be willing to challenge yourself, challenge different assumptions and try new things,” Strauss said.