Analysis for 'Fancast Xfinity TV'

  • Comcast's Amy Banse Provides an Update on TV Everywhere Rollout

    While at the Cable Show early this week, I had a chance to sit down with Amy Banse, President of Comcast Interactive Media, which is driving the rollout of Fancast Xfinity TV - what Comcast calls its TV Everywhere service. After a lot of PR build-up last fall, Comcast officially launched FXTV (my shorthand) last December. As a Comcast triple-play customer myself, I was able to give it a try, and I thought the initial effort was respectable, even though the content selection was limited.

    Flash forward 5 months and curiously, Comcast hasn't said a peep about how things are going with the FXTV rollout. Amy explained that with the NBCU deal's approval process underway, the company has chosen to maintain a relatively low profile on FXTV, something she hopes will change in early fall. Amy said about 1 million people are accessing FXTV regularly, with engagement time a lot higher than with the open Fancast portal. Subscribers to premium channels like HBO are the heaviest users and like FXTV the most. Primarily people use FXTV to catch up on missed episodes and past seasons.

    Still, Amy noted that the authentication process needs to be improved substantially, reducing the number of steps from its current 8-10 (though I have to say, I just authenticated on my new Mac and it really wasn't that painful). Amy's eager to introduce a universal ID approach, so users don't need to scramble to remember their Comcast login information. And the company is working on getting more content; the key issues to doing so are proving in authentication, building trust with content partners and enabling measurement.

    I was an early fan of the TV Everywhere approach and believe it is key to blunting cord-cutting's appeal. I recognize that nothing ever happens as fast as you'd like it to, but Comcast - and other operators - need to hustle more on rolling out TV Everywhere initiatives. As I noted recently, Netflix is banging it out of the park, gaining more mind-share and disruptive potential. They're just one of many new competitors the industry needs to worry about.

    What do you think? Post a comment now (no sign-in required).

  • My Review of Fancast Xfinity TV: Respectable Start With Room for Improvement

    Amid much anticipation, Comcast launched its "Fancast Xfinity TV" (my shorthand will be "FXTV") service yesterday. FXTV is Comcast's TV Everywhere offering and it will initially be available only to the company's approximately 14 million "dual play" (digital cable + broadband Internet access) subscribers. Comcast is keeping a "beta" label on FXTV for now, to give it some time to work out the kinks. As a Comcast triple-play customer, I have access to FXTV and I played around with it yesterday and last night. While there's plenty of room for improvement, overall FXTV is off to a respectable start.

    When dual play customers now visit Fancast they are immediately notified through a prominent pop-up that there's "Great News for Comcast Customers" about online access to over a 1,000 new shows and movies. "Get started" prompts the user to enter their email address and password, then a 17.5MB download begins which includes the Move Networks player and an Adobe Air application. After naming your computer (you're allowed up to 3 devices to access FXTV), the site reloads with the new FXTV Beta branding. All of that worked fine for me.

    A prominent window at the top of the page promotes 4 current TV shows, but FXTV misses a big opportunity to immediately demonstrate its value by oddly showcasing just 1 program (TNT's "Men of a Certain Age,") that's not sourced from Hulu. Savvy users will know the rest are already freely available there. Why not promote 4 programs that are only available to FXTV users? And why not include messaging like "Exclusively for FXTV Users!" to remind users of the payoff for having just gone through a download process?


    On the positive side, below this window, FXTV promotes programming from premium channels HBO, Starz and Cinemax. As a non-subscriber to Cinemax, when I clicked on "Juno," which had a little key icon, FXTV's authentication process kicked in, prompting a message to subscribe to Cinemax to watch. However, when I clicked "Learn more" my popup blocker interceded which meant I needed to disable it and then reload the page. The Cinemax promotional page that loads is generic from the web site, featuring a graphic of "Gran Torino" and promotions for 3 other movies. Comcast has a golden upsell opportunity when FXTV users click on premium content. It would no doubt improve its conversion ratio if the landing page were customized to load a graphic of the original movie or show selected at FXTV, well merchandised with trailers, clips and other information. A special offer/reward for FXTV users would also help.

    Back on the FXTV site, below the premium channel promotions is an area for Full Episodes, categorized by "Celeb News," "The Hot List," "Dramas," etc. Once again, many of the thumbnails link to content that is freely available online and to all other Fancast users. Once again, I'm surprised that Comcast isn't doing more to promote programs that are only available to FXTV users, making it more explicit what's special about FXTV.

    I clicked and watched parts of a number of shows and in general my experience was positive. I've read other reviews describing buffering delays, but I didn't experience any issues, or at least anything different than I typically do when starting videos at other sites. One thing Comcast disclosed on the press call yesterday was that FXTV would be available to dual play subscribers outside their homes. Recall that in the 5,000 person trial, users could only access the service from within their homes, so this is a major step forward. I haven't yet tested FXTV remotely, but will do so while in Florida next week.

    The biggest challenge FXTV faces is content availability, particularly from the ad-supported cable networks. For example of last week's top 10 rated cable shows, only TNT's "The Closer" and "Men of a Certain Age" are available on FXTV. Among the top 10, there are no sports (football or WWE) or kids shows like "Sponge Bob" (Nick) or "Phineas and Ferb" (Disney) available. Even for #10 show "Keeping up With the Kardashians" the most recent episodes are from Season 2, back in May 2008 - and this is a show that's on E! Entertainment, a channel that Comcast itself owns! There are no episodes offered of my favorite cable show, AMC's "Mad Men."

    The content selection on the premium channels HBO, Starz and Cinemax (note Showtime is not yet available on FXTV) is better, but not eye-popping. For example, the only episodes of HBO's "Entourage" that are available are from Season 2 in 2005, despite the fact that Comcast's CEO Brian Roberts specifically demonstrated and highlighted the idea that all episodes of Entourage would be available when he showed the service at the Web 2.0 conference less than 2 months ago. For some reason HBO must have pulled the rights to Entourage in this time.

    A lot of the questions on the press call Comcast conducted yesterday focused on content availability and it's clear that obtaining the rights to distribute the full slate of cable programs online is devilishly complex. To be sure, Comcast has made progress, saying it has 27 networks are supplying programming, totaling 12K titles. There's no distributor in a better position to make online distribution happen than Comcast, yet as I wrote last week about Nielsen not yet being able to collect and then synthesize online viewership, Comcast (and other TV Everywhere providers) are subject to forces beyond their control.

    Yet another complicating factor is how advertising in FXTV will work. Comcast said that for now, while "nobody really knows what works best," each network will be permitted to experiment with ad loads. It's not clear how long this will go on, nor what role Comcast will play to guide networks to a certain load. In the meantime though, the downside is that the user experience is inconsistent from one network to another. For an offering that's free to subscribers that's not a big drawback, but the lack of consistency does chip away at least a little bit from the overall experience.

    Taken together, Comcast deserves credit for getting FXTV out the door just 6 months since announcing it this summer, which is light speed in cable TV terms. There are lots of ways it can and will be improved upon. Gaining credibility with content providers, so that FXTV can beef up its library is priority #1. As I've been saying for a while now, conceptually FXTV is right on all fronts - it preserves the paid consumer model for content providers, offers users enhanced value and helps Comcast and other providers defend against cord-cutting. Hopefully Comcast and other providers will sufficiently invest in these services to let them reach their full potential.

    What do you think? Post a comment now.

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