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Comcast’s Fancast XFinity TV: The Makings of a Monetizable OTT Model?

|Includes: Comcast Corporation (CMCSA), GE

Comcast’s (CMCSA) “TV Everywhere” initiative has been christened with a snazzy new name—perhaps a little too snazzy? Fancast XFinity TV went live this week to an estimated 14 million Comcast double (cable+HSI) and triple play customers.

First things first: the name needs work

Did nobody in Comcast’s marketing department catch the similarity to Dunder Mifflin Infinity-- the scandal-prone online division of the fictional paper company on NBC’s  ‘The Office?” Coincidental—since “The Office” on its way to becoming a Comcast asset.

Regardless of the branding, the idea is, on its surface, solid.

Comcast’s Model Makes Sense


Comcast is essentially  doing what other industries in the past have failed to do: addressing and embracing disruptive technology head on. Rather than burying its head in the sand and ‘hoping away’ alternative distribution models, the company has recognized that its customers want the freedom to view content on the screen and device of their choosing.

I often cite the examples of the music industry and print journalism as two cautionary tales of industry approaches to technology. While these may be slight oversimplifications, they are still illustrative of the high cost of early missteps.

One could argue that the recording industry elected to ignore the power of the Internet completely, and insisted that the existing distribution and value chains would remain unchanged. When things ultimately went pear shaped, instead of adapting to the new reality, they sued their customers. Makes sense, right? Goodbye Tower Records.

The print journalism industry initially embraced the Internet, and tried to charge for content (remember the pay per article model?), Eventually, though, it too caved to customer pushback. Readers showed a preference for consuming their news online at a price point of…guess what…zero. The ad-supported model proved unsustainable. The reality? Print newspapers are, as one politician recently said “endangered species.”

“Anywhere” may be important, but content still rules


To be sure, there remain kinks to be worked out of the system. Early reviews talk about long buffering and other pesky problems. As a Comcast customer, I downloaded and logged in today, only to find that the “Beta” label remains on the landing page—perhaps this is some sort of intentional insurance policy?

“Any screen, any device” is a laudable goal—but it’s only half the battle. Customers need compelling content to complete the package. It doesn’t matter where I can watch content, if I don’t want to see it in the first place.

That’s where the NBCU deal comes in. Once the deal is consummated, content from NBCU’s cable assets could theoretically help to beef up the content library, offering a wide selection of both free and paid-for selections.

Could this be the first real pass at a viable (read”monetizable”) OTT business model?

And oh yeah, what about Hulu?