Parks Associates Blog

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Comcast's Fancast Goes Transactional

We had the opportunity today to brief with Alix Cottrell, who is the general manager for Comcast's Fancast service. As has been reported, Fancast has now opened up a store where TV episodes and movies can be purchased or rented. The numbers of titles (3,000) and features of the service are similar to those to which we’ve grown accustomed – iTunes, Unbox, CinemaNow, etc. So, while it’s interesting that Comcast is getting into the transactional business for online videos, our key takeaways from the conversation is how Comcast is taking “over-the-top” video and really making it a strategic asset to build their core broadband and television services. This was a key point that was stressed by Amy Banse, the president of Comcast Interactive Media, during a keynote at our CONNECTIONS™ 2008 conference in Santa Clara.

The key to Fancast’s success isn’t going to be how profitable its movie rental business is; it’s how well it can serve to point viewers (Comcast subscribers or not) to relevant content. The extra benefit of the service – if you’re a Comcast subscriber – are the features that will:

  • Allow you to remotely program your DVR (a feature that should be rolled out in some form later this year but fully deployed in 2009); and
  • Set up “favorite” folders of content that can then be viewed at the TV; and
  • Help direct users to all of the ways in which a Comcast subscriber can view the content – online, live, in VoD, etc.

With Fancast’s free content, there are some interesting tools that allow users to share content with friends or set notification reminders where they are e-mailed when new content is available to view. This isn’t particularly unique; many of the online video services offer this. It’s just a nice tool to have, and a new feature that Comcast is touting.

One area of electronic movie distribution that we’ve covered extensively in our blog and in reports such as the newly-released Internet Video: Direct-to-Consumer Services (Second Edition) is the struggle that online movie services have in dealing with Hollywood’s “sequential distribution” or “windowing” of content. Basically, it’s the rules that govern premium Hollywood content’s availability to certain distributors, whether they’re theaters, DVD rental stores, airlines and hotels, pay-per-view/video-on-demand, and syndication.

The folks at Comcast aren’t making claims that Fancast is going to shatter the windows, but there are some nice features that Fancast delivers in terms of setting consumer expectations to when and where content can be viewed. I think that’s a really important aspect to note. Comcast likes to think that consumers will get accustomed to “Fancasting” content to check how they can view it. They also refer to it as “creating the impression of a windowless world,” when in fact there are strict rules that will limit the ubiquitous access to all content. Better to set the expectations early and offer consumers additional options (ordering the DVD through Amazon, for example) than to disappoint them in the long run.

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