Comcast getting into video download business

“Comcast has been itching to get into on-demand video downloads and further details on its planned service are emerging,” Eric Bangeman reports for Ars Technica. “The service will reportedly launch by the end of October and will allow users to watch movies either on their PCs or on the family room TV via a set-top box. Pricing and system requirements (for PCs) are not yet known. Will it be enough to make a splash in the burgeoning movie download market?”

Bangeman reports, “In terms of encoding, Comcast will reportedly use two different methods, depending on the destination platform. For set-top boxes, the cable company will use something like MPEG-4. PCs will see the increasingly common Flash format, which has become the streaming video format of choice these days and has the advantage (from Comcast’s point of view) of being difficult to save locally. If Comcast goes the portable route, it will have to go with something along the lines of DRMed WMV. Other details, such as pricing and availability, have yet to be disclosed.”

“Net Neutrality proponents regularly express concerns about movie downloads and other bandwidth-intensive applications getting placed into a virtual express lane on the Internet superhighway, saying that it could ultimately lead to anti-competitive abuses. If Comcast does turn to uncapped delivery, plenty of eyes will be watching, but we suspect that Comcast will tread lightly. The company already offers its own lineup of services, such as VoIP, and there’s scant evidence that they’ve prioritized their own traffic and degraded others,” Bangeman reports. “Most cable Internet users have experienced slowdowns at different times of the day when their neighbors are all going online. That’s the nature of the beast with cable. From a customer service point of view, Comcast can’t afford to crimp everyone else’s pipe down to 1Mbps while someone down the street downloads Jackass 2. If they do offer some sort of temporary download speed increase, Comcast will want to keep that within whatever the local maximum is for the customer so as not to adversely affect other subscribers.”

Bangeman reports, “The chances of Comcast working a deal to get movies onto the iPod are about as good as the Yankees’ payroll ever dropping under $100 million. And it’s hard to make direct comparisons between Comcast and Apple because we don’t know things like what percentage of Comcast’s ISP subscribers have iPods or what percentage of the over 40 million iPods Apple is expected to sell this year are the video model. However, we do know that Comcast has some advantages that its competitors—including Verizon and AT&T as well as Apple—lack: a large audience and a built-in living room connection.”

Much more in the full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Tommy Boy” for the heads up.]

Related articles:
Analyst: two major studios seen joining Apple’s iTunes Store – October 10, 2006
Target complains to studios about iTunes Store movie download prices – October 09, 2006
Report: Apple and Wal-Mart in discussions over iTunes Store alliance – September 29, 2006
Wal-Mart threatens retaliation against Hollywood studios if they sell movies via Apple’s iTunes – September 22, 2006
Disney’s remarkable 1st week iTunes movies sales should have studios clambering aboard Apple train – September 20, 2006
Disney sells 125,000 movie downloads via Apple’s iTunes Store in first week – September 19, 2006
Apple debuts iTunes 7 – September 12, 2006


  1. Comcast is pretty lazy in the Mac department. Funny thing tho, when I first had Comcast installed, the tech guy was happy I had a Mac because he didn’t have to do anything.

    Does anyone know when Comcast will finally go Tivo?


  2. Comcast already had their “On Demand” service for TV. How would this new service be different? I understand that the PC is another beast entirely, but it seems like all they really need to do is expand their On Demand service.

  3. Totally agree that Comcast currently leaves Mac users out in the cold without remorse. Based on past performance, it is extremely unlikely that Comcast will make enlightened decisions in the future, but hey… anything is possible!

  4. I would ignore the Mac for right now if I were them. lets say we are talking 10% . I’ll put my energy on the 90% of the market.

    I’m surprised it has taken the cable companies this long to get into the act. It is the natural delivery vehicle.

    The right cable hardware could create serious competition for everyone else

  5. Comcast still only offers 10-12 HD channels in many markets, which are bandwidth starved because they still are (and will be) undergoing the analog-to-digital simulcast (ADS) conversion on channels 2-99 through the end of 2007.

    We are a Comcast customer, and would be predisposed toward NOT using a Comcast download service just so that this company does not amass too much power.

    Also, Comcast overprices all their pay-per-view movies and premium download channels now, and I have to believe they will overprice with any download service as well, in addition to forcing onerous DRM. They’ll probably do .wmv files only, won’t be able to support Macs or 802.11n music and movie transfers, and it will take them two or three years to roll it all out by 2010 because they won’t be able to even implement this nationwide until after they finish the ADS conversion at the end of 2007. Even then, they would still have to switch all the remaining analog customers to digital, which will be slow process. And as long as analog channels are still online, Comcast will remain bandwidth starved.

    Finally, Comcast is not a software company and so the interface and functionality of any service they offer is likely to be mediocre at best. Besides being very slow, their current online guide (iGuide) has a terrible, 1980’s-style interface with heavy, oversaturated colors influeneced by Windows 98, and a lifeless hierarchal menu system that is built around remotes with buttons, and so it is tedious to navigate. They are about to roll out a software update that’s been in the works for nearly two years and it seems as if it is going to feature only minor interface changes. I can only hope it corrects all the various problems with the simplistic iGuide, but I have little hope that it will. Believe me, Comcast does not have the technical savvy, the human interface designers, or the time to pull this off.

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