As promised, Comcast
's online television
experiment is rolling out across the nation, part of the industry-wide
TV Everywhere initiative designed to keep cable companies relevant in a
Web 2.0 world.
Fancast Xfinity TV, as it's called, allows
Comcast subscribers to legally watch certain shows online for the first
time. For the time being, it's available only to customers who
subscribe to both the company's digital cable and Internet services.
Within about six months, it should be available to all cable
subscribers, Comcast Interactive President Amy Banse told Reuters.
30 networks including HBO, Showtime, TNT and AMC are allowing the
company to provide access to their shows, though it's up to each
network which shows and how many episodes of it. HBO could allow
streaming of just the upcoming season of "Big Love," for example, while
Showtime could release just the last two seasons of "Californication"
and AMC could make all seasons of "Mad Men" available. And maybe HBO
wouldn't allow streaming of "True Blood" until shortly before it's back
on the air next summer. (Just for the record, a demo showed Xfinity had
all seasons of both "The Sopranos" and "Big Love," among others.)
The networks signed on to Comcast's experiment are: A&E, AMC, BBC America
, CBS, Cinemax, DIY Network
, Fine Living Network
, Food Network
, Hallmark Channel
, HBO, HGTV, History, IFC, MGM Impact, Starz, Sundance Channel
, TNT, WE tv, E! Entertainment, The Style Network
G4 and Fearnet (the last of which is owned by Comcast). Several of the networks are owned
by CBS, including Showtime and Sundance.
The biggest source of legal online network content so far has been Hulu
the joint project between NBC Universal and Fox, though it has not
turned a profit. Comcast's project could, in the end, co-opt Hulu,
seeing as Comcast successfully bid for NBC Universal (though that deal
still must be approved by a slew of regulators). Or, perhaps, Hulu
could co-opt Comcast, as the subscriber model has been highly
unsuccessful online in other media industries such as news and music.
project's money-making ability, beyond subscriber fees, is still in
question. Some of the networks involved, including TNT and TBS, are
carrying full "ad loads" - i.e., the same number of advertisements they
air on television, to see what the market will bear. And Comcast is
working with Nielsen to determine how best to measure online ratings
and count them toward overall ratings - which are used to determine how
much to charge advertisers.