12.03.2009 12:40 PM
How Comcast's NBCU Takeover could Grow HD
Now that the Comcast/NBC deal is official, initial speculation is that there's a good chance the first HD consumers to be directly impacted by the move will be Comcast's current and future HD subscribers.

While Comcast currently offers a limited range of on-demand TV shows via its various set-top boxes — including HD content which is free to its HD subs — its VOD HD menu does not consist of any NBC programs, such as "30 Rock," "The Office," "Sunday Night Football" or "The Tonight Show." In fact, CBS is the only broadcast network prominently featured on Comcast's VOD HD tier, which typically offers shows such as the two "NCIS" series and the three "CSI" programs within 24 hours of their initial network airings.

So, first, with any Comcast takeover of NBCU, a relatively speedy addition of virtually all NBC broadcast content to the cabler's VOD tier seems highly possible.

Yet besides NBC Television, NBCU also controls the content of many networks, including CNBC, MSNBC, USA Network, AMC, Versus, The Weather Channel, Telemundo, Hallmark Channels (outside the U.S.), Bravo, Universal HD (commercial-free movies) — and NBCU holds the exclusive U.S. rights to the next few winter and summer Olympics, virtually all of which are now fed in 1080i. (The 2010 winter Olympics will be held in February in Vancouver.)

Thus, if Comcast had first and immediate access to this massive vault of live and recorded HD content, it could have at least a temporary HD leg up on the competition. Of course, this doesn't affect all those consumers who can't subscribe to Comcast if they wanted to, given the one-cabler-fits-all predicament that most American markets face, despite DBS and the recent emergence of FiOS.

Secondly, since NBCU also consists of a major Hollywood film house, Universal Pictures, Comcast likely would have special access to Universal's titles as its films transition between theaters and DVD/Blu-ray and cable VOD. While Philadelphia-based Comcast already occasionally offers some film titles on a "same day-and-date" basis as DVD/Blu-ray, in the near future the cabler could offer Universal titles via cable VOD (and online via broadband streaming to its millions of Internet customers) before the titles reach Netflix, Blockbuster and other typical video-disc renters and sellers.

And a third possibility, among others, is the potential that a new division or network of any Comcast-run NBCU could be created to solely produce original TV and/or film content to be used exclusively for Comcast's cable and online subs. If that's undertaken, chances are overwhelming that virtually all of such original content will be produced in HD.

Stay tuned.

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