The Leash Is Off: Comcast Digital Subs Can Access Xfinity TV From Any ISP

SNL on Fancast homepage

In a big step forward for the TV Everywhere concept, Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) is taking the beta tag off Xfinity TV and opening more than 150,000 hours of online content to all of its digital video subs—no matter which ISP they use. The beta version initially launched with access limited to subscribers getting their TV and internet access through the cable operator because it was easier technologically.

The move has added resonance given Comcast’s pending merger with NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and the scrutiny on content access through the internet as the FCC considers approval. It may be especially useful in the aftermath of News Corp.‘s short-lived blackout of Fox programming on Fox.com and Hulu for Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) ISP subs.

The process is also less cumbersome. Comcast digital subs log in with their Comcast ID and password, then start to watch. No download. It’s all browser based.

The service is layered on top of Comcast’s all-access video portal, the former Fancast.com now known as Xfinity TV. (The brand transition is confusing: Fancast.com is still the domain and the brand on the identifying browser info but the site is all Xfinity TV. )

Any user can access a large chunk of the programming, including the same content they would get on basic Hulu.com plus something not on Hulu—CBS (NYSE: CBS). But only Comcast digital video subs have access to the premium cable programming from Showtime, HBO, Cinemax, Starz and Encore, plus some programming from a variety of basic cable nets. Comcast says premium Xfinity TV offers 150,000 video “choices” from nearly 90 content partners, some in HD.

Comcast describes the online content as “free”—a bit of stretch since it’s available only to customers who already pay for video. It’s more like “no additional charge.” That doesn’t diminish the potential value for users, who should be able to get more use out of that video subscription in multiple locations and across devices.

My TV: Access also includes a batch of features—remote DVR management, watchlists, search across platforms, social media sharing. Matt Strauss, SVP & GM of Comcast Interactive, explains more on the Comcast corporate blog.

We'll be addressing some of these themes during our next conference, paidContent's The Battle for the Digital Home, November 8 in West Hollywood. You can find out more about the agenda and register here.


See What You’ve Done, Steve?

Apple has $51 billion in cash, and Steve Jobs had better spend some of it soon. Because people are starting to lose their minds.

See: Delusional investors in Sony, who bid up shares today over a rumor that Apple will blow its wad on the company.

Where did that crazy rumor come from? From this innocuous Barron’s column, where Eric Savitz throws out Sony’s name as a possible Apple purchase, alongside Disney and Adobe.

Now, Barron’s is an excellent publication (it is also owned by News Corp.’s Dow Jones, which owns this site), and Eric is an excellent writer. But perhaps something got lost in translation, because anyone who looked at the piece for a second would see that Eric was simply engaging in the time-honored tradition of “making wild guesses about Apple’s plans.”

Or, in Eric’s words: “That was pure speculation. Yeesh.”

I’m just glad there isn’t a public market (yet) for Facebook shares.

LeBron James Gets a Jump on the Season, With an Assist From the Internet

LeBron James and the Miami Heat will usher in the new NBA season tomorrow night by playing the Celtics on TNT. But James and Nike got a head start on the season today, with help from YouTube and the rest of the Web.

Apologies for this, but it is indeed a slam dunk: James and his shoe company have a new ad to show off, and the Internet wants to see it, then talk about it. Google tallies 58 stories so far about the new ad. Make that 59….

Amazon Selling So Many Kindles It Can’t Count Them

Right? Maybe that’s the reason Amazon doesn’t release sales numbers for its e-reader line–it literally has no idea how many it sold?

Oh. No. That can’t be it, either: Here’s another Amazon press release, which tallies up Kindle sales without actually telling you how many Kindles Amazon has sold.

As usual, Amazon presents a comparison instead of a count: The company says it has moved more third-gen Kindles, which went on sale in August, than its total of older models for the last three months of 2009. Pause. Does the apples-to-pears nature of this one throw you for a loop? Me too.

And another data point: Amazon is now selling more Kindle titles than hardcover and paperback books. That’s a new wrinkle on an old bragging point: In the past, Amazon said that it had sold more Kindle titles than hardcovers.

Not surprisingly, Amazon doesn’t mention the impact of  the iPad on its e-book sales, but it’s likely substantial, since iPad owners can read Kindle titles on Apple’s tablet.

Want to read about Kindle sales from a source other than Amazon? No problem. Here’s a discussion of J.P. Morgan’s report on the e-book boom, and one from Citi about the impact of the Kindle on Amazon’s P&L; Mark Mahaney thinks the Kindle will account for seven percent of the company’s revenue this year.

New Generation Kindle Device Sales Already Surpass Fourth Quarter 2009 – The Peak Holiday Shopping Season and Busiest Time of Year on Amazon

Amazon.com Customers Now Buying More Bestsellers on Kindle Than Paperbacks and Hardcovers Combined—At a Rate of 2 to 1

SEATTLE—October 25, 2010—(NASDAQ: AMZN)—The new generation Kindle devices are the fastest-selling Kindles of all time and the bestselling products on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.  Today, Amazon.com announced that sales of the new generation Kindle devices since their introduction have already surpassed total Kindle device sales from October through December 2009.

“It’s still October and we’ve already sold more Kindle devices since launch than we did during the entire fourth quarter of last year—astonishing because the fourth quarter is the busiest time of year on Amazon,” said Steve Kessel, Senior Vice President, Amazon Kindle. “Readers continue to choose Kindle for its all-new electronic ink screen with 50 percent higher contrast, readability in bright sunlight, long battery life of up to one month, light 8.5 ounce form, flexibility to read their books across all major LCD devices and platforms, and low $139 price.  It’s clear that this is going to be the biggest holiday for Kindle yet—by far.”

In addition, Kindle book unit sales continue to overtake print on Amazon.com, even while print book sales continue to grow.  During the past 30 days, Amazon.com customers purchased more Kindle books than print books—hardcover and paperback combined—for the top 10, 25, 100, and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com.

“For the top 10 bestselling books on Amazon.com, customers are choosing Kindle books over hardcover and paperback books combined at a rate of greater than 2 to 1.  Kindle books are also outselling print books for the top 25, 100, and 1,000 bestsellers—it’s across the board,” said Kessel.  “This is remarkable when you consider that we’ve been selling hardcover and paperback books for 15 years, and Kindle books for just 36 months.”

Other recent milestones for Kindle include:

• In the 12 weeks following the introduction of the new generation Kindles, Kindle devices or Kindle-related items such as Kindle books and covers represented 15 of the top 15 bestselling items on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk combined.

• Amazon sold more than 3 times as many Kindle books in the first nine months of 2010 as in the first nine months of 2009.

• The Association of American Publishers’ latest data reports that e-book sales grew 193 percent between January and August 2010. Kindle book sales growth during the same period exceeded this rate.

Microsoft’s Ozzie Says Company Must Prepare For A ‘Post-PC’ World

Ray Ozzie

Ray Ozzie, the Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) chief software architect who announced he would step down this month, says in a memo to staff today that the company has made “great progress” transforming itself over the past five years, although he also says “some of the opportunities I laid out in (a) memo five years ago remain elusive and are yet to be realized.”  That memo warned that advertising-supported sevices and software presented a fundamental challenge to Microsoft’s business.

Ozzie’s new memo, which you can read in full here, notes that the progress of Microsoft’s competitors has been “noteworthy.” From the memo: “Our early and clear vision notwithstanding, their execution has surpassed our own in mobile experiences, in the seamless fusion of hardware & software & services, and in social networking & myriad new forms of internet-centric social interaction.”

Ozzie goes on to say that Microsoft now needs to imagine and prepare for a “post-PC world,” noting that the market is transforming into a “world of 1) cloud-based continuous services that connect us all and do our bidding, and 2) appliance-like connected devices enabling us to interact with those cloud-based services.” To prepare, he says, the company needs to dream up “killer apps & services” and “killer devices” that fit.

Ozzie isn’t leaving Microsoft quite yet. First, he’s going to focus on “the broader area of entertainment,” according to Microsoft. He doesn’t mention in his memo what that role will entail, but it would make sense that he might be working on some of the services and devices he refers to, which he notes in his memo will definitely play a role in the “realm” of “entertainment.”

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The Meanest Thing You’ll Hear About AOL and Yahoo Today

It’s from last night’s “Saturday Night Live,” and it involves the words “nursing” and “home.”

You don’t need to watch the whole clip to see it–the joke is over by the 40-second mark. You will have to sit through a pre-roll, though. And, as always, you can’t see it outside the U.S.:

How Google TV Could Hand Netflix The Entire Streaming Universe

Mark Cuban at NBA All Star Game 2010

I personally can’t think of anything stupider for the big broadcast networks to do than give their shows to Google (NSDQ: GOOG) for free. Why ? Because they are finally getting BILLIONS of dollars in retransmission fees from their distributors.  This is new money. It is found money. It is money they are fighting for.  Just ask Fox and Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) what they think of each other this week.

The idea that they would take and fight for money from their distributors, who generally are the same ISPs that Google TV delivers content over, and then offer the exact same shows for free through Google TV, or any aggregator that expects that content for free is probably one of the dumbest concepts ever.

Now if Google were to go to those networks and offer them money per month for every buyer of a Google enabled device or TV, that would be different. Then they would be a tv provider competing with the rest and they should take their money. Think Google will ever do that ? I don’t.

So giving the same content they not only charge their distributors for, but also charge their local affiliates for to Google for nothing or for a share of revenue ? STUPID.

If Google sticks to their guns of not paying up front for content like Netflix (NSDQ: NFLX) does, they will have handed Netflix the entire streaming universe on a platter.

Did anyone else see the report that Netflix streaming consumes 20pct of download throughput during weekday primetime hours ?

If this is true. Its one more reason to think that Netflix has won the streaming wars and those broadcast networks would be moronic to give their content online away for free. Why ?

First of all, do you know the difference between Netflix and Google when it comes to content ?  Netflix pays up front and offers minimum guarantees.  Google and everyone else for that matter, pays a commission based on ad sales. (which works wonderfully on Youtube for them)

So riddle me this batman. Netflix is on Google TV , correct ? Given that Netflix pays and Google TV doesn’t, why wouldn’t/shouldn’t the broadcast networks offer all of their shows to Netflix as a way to reach Google TV users, knowing that they will get paid for their content. Paid HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OR MORE for their content.

All you internet pundits want the broadcast networks to give the content away for free. THAT IS STUPID.  Get Netflix to pay you on a per subscriber basis on a par with what your other TV providers pay you. Netflix becomes a competitive TV provider. BRILLIANT. You get paid. You reach Google TV users and non Google TV users.

Of course you basically cede to Netflix control of the streaming content world. You give their streaming only subscriptions a unique value beyond old shows and movies. Goodbye Hulu as well.

Of course once they get the broadcast nets, how long until they add the cable nets like ESPN (NYSE: DIS), Disney, etc., etc. ?

Back to the Netflix using 20pct of bandwidth.  Now that they have gotten there, it is going to be easier for Netflix than anyone else to grow their bandwidth usage. They can add streaming subscribers at a controlled level and it could work.  Growing their usage as a percentage of total bandwidth consumption quickly becomes a trojan horse in the streaming wars.  They are consuming so much bandwidth, they literally are blocking out the ability of anyone to compete with them.

If Netflix gets to 25pct do you think Google is going to be able to also get to 25pct during primetime and all of the sudden 50pct of the internet’s bandwidth during primetime is allocated to streaming tv originated shows, movies and other video ? Of course not. And that’s before consideration for Youtube. How much bandwidth in primetime does and will Youtube use ? After you combine Netflix and their growth to Youtube and its growth, what kind of internet bandwidth is going to be left for anyone else for streaming TV to millions ?

There will be big problems and lots of quality and delivery issues long before we get close to those percentages. Leaving Netflix in a phenomenal position.  They get to adapt to a declining available bandwidth environment with an existing product , revenue and subscriber base. There is no such thing as equal access when you are blocking up 25pct of the lanes on the highway 24×7. The others can’t even get on the ramp.

Their competitors have to figure out how not only how to overcome the technical hurdles of reduced available bandwidth, but also a business model since no one will want to give content away for free when Netflix can pay them.

Netflix is smart as shit.

Netflix is also great for traditional TV providers. TV works. TV works for any number of subscribers or viewers. 100pct of the digital bandwidth that TV uses is designed, managed and operated purely for the distribution of TV and complementary features. It will work.

Netflix should end up as the only “TV” provider that truly works on the internet,  Which means that content providers like the broadcast and cable networks can be paid by Netflix on a per sub basis for their subs who want to subscribe via the net, and from traditional tv providers for those who want buffer free, (relatively) full quality TV the old fashioned way.

Oh, and one more thing. Expect your internet bills to go way way up as ISPs make it clear that all this video over the internet is going to require billions in upgrades. The irony is that while you may not like paying for cable channels you don’t watch. You will end up paying for cable channels on the internet that you don’t watch as well. In this case you will be paying via higher net bills for the extra bandwidth required to stream cable channels that your neighbors like to watch

Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks and cofounder of HDNet, offers running commentary on Blog Maverick and allows us to publish it here when the subject fits. This one shows why we were so keen to have him at our Nov. 8 conference, The Battle for the Digital Home (register here), and so regret that the Mavericks are playing that day.