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CBS, HBO, Cinemax Join Comcast Broadband Trial

If Comcast has a secret middle name, it could be Hulu. The nation's largest TV service provider, one broadcast network, and two pay-TV channels appear determined to bring more television—including HD fare—to the small screen, despite the relatively healthy sales of large-screen HD sets in North America.

This week, Comcast confirmed that VOD content from Time Warner properties HBO and Cinemax had been added to the "TV Anywhere" lineup, which was announced last month, with TW networks TNT and TBS the initial partners. Last week, Liberty Media's Starz had also been added to the lineup. In addition, CBS made it official this week that it has also joined the team. (CBS entertainment content such as "NCIS" and the CSI franchise already are offered on Comcast's "Channel 1" cable on-demand service.)

Comcast said as many as 17 venues likely will contribute content for the experiment. The cabler has been trying to grow its on-demand content and uses VOD in the cable TV realm as a marketing strategy against DirecTV and Dish On Demand—both of which currently offer more actual HD "channels" (rather than "choices") than Comcast.

The online experiment places Comcast (at least temporarily) head-to-head with Hulu—the popular free online service that currently offers content from NBC, ABC/Disney and Fox, among others.

Comcast's expanded broadband initiative will be conducted via the cabler's VOD technical trial of about 5,000 homes across the United States in coming weeks. Part of the experiment will focus on testing the feasibility of Comcast's new "authentication" technology—which permits its cable subs to receive (at no additional charge) the same content online on their computers (for possible relay to their TV sets) that they already pay to see on the TV sets. (How much of the added content will be streamed online in HD has not yet been announced by Comcast.)

On the cable side, Comcast already offers HD television content on a VOD basis free-of-charge to its TV subs (usually within 24 hours after airing on its respective network) from a relatively limited source pool consisting mainly of CBS, TNT and TBS.