- More On Cable And Online Video: Only Part Of The Big Picture

Staci D. Kramer
Monday, February 23, 2009; 4:07 AM

Last night when I mentioned online that I was watching Elvis Costello's Spectacle, the quick response from a TV-less friend was how could he find it online? Legally, he can't; only a few top clips are on the Sundance Channel microsite. We forgot to set our DVR with a season pass so we're picking episodes as we can from Charter's VOD. It's not that easy: the number of episodes on demand are limited and it takes someone with a higher grade in mindreading than I have to figure out when one will be available. That could change if Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) and other cable operators get their way.

The Wall Street Journal first reported late last week that some MSOs and programmers are discussing ways to provide cable subscription content online. We also reported that another idea in the works is to provide more extensive cable VOD; the two are not mutually exclusive.

My friend, who doesn't subscribe to cable, still wouldn't have access but?and this is all still very if-than?a cable subscriber whose operator makes a deal with Rainbow Media's Sundance Channel might be able to watch any episode on demand online. Take that idea and fill in the blank with other cable programming, particularly programming that isn't already online for free so the cable operator can have an exclusive, for a sense of what MSOs are looking for from programmers when it comes to an edge against other pay services and against all the free, legal ad-supported services like Hulu,,, and Comcast's Fancast.

NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) told the Journal it would take part in a trial. The Disney/ABC Television Group hasn't yet made a decision, EVP Albert Cheng told me. "We have been presented with that opportunity. We aren't doing anything yet." But, he added, "we definitely honor our cable relationships." Cheng also said, as he has before, that Disney/ABC continues to believe that online video has only added to overall consumption and benefits all involved. CBS (NYSE: CBS) declined comment.

Comcast: Comcast is the unique position of being an MSO, cable programmer and the owner of online programming guide/video portal Fancast. Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media, isn't sharing details about the service tentatively titled OnDemand Online but she did want to stress that Comcast isn't trying to make it all exclusive: "We?programmers and cable operators?recognize that consumers like to consume their long-form video online. this is a proposal to get more of the long-form programming consumers love online." That won't make the idea that this is a Hulu/video portal killer go away but it might limit some kneejerk reactions.

What do we know about Comcast's plans from various sources? A trial is months away but expected sometime this year, possibly by summer. I expect Fancast to be the portal but access will be limited to Comcast subscribers; at first, it may not even be available to all of them since it's a trial. Dan Frommer reported that the online video will count towards the 250 GM monthly cap for Comcast ISP subs. (Memo to the Comcast marketing department: giving people a separate allowance for online "cable content" would make it sound even better.)

Comcast tech acquisition thePlatform is powering the service, which is still in flux technologically. CEO Ian Blaine who wrote about it vaguely in a blog post: "The main point is that this is additive to the rich universe of online video. It is good for consumers because they get access to more content in more places. It is also good for cable networks because it doesn't put subscription fees at risk, and gives cable or other distributors the the ability to give their audiences the experience they want and expect."

We'll have more on this and the other efforts in the works.


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