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Comcast Eyes Million-Plus Viewers Left Behind by DTV

Comcast, the nation’s top cable provider, thinks as many as 2 million over-the-air viewers in its footprint might be unable to pickup DTV signals after the end of full-power analog broadcasts next February.

“We think there’s between 6 and 8 million people who live in our footprint who currently get their television signals over the air,” said Stephen Burke, Comcast chief operating officer, in a conference call discussing the company’s second-quarter results.

“Somewhere around 20 to 30 percent of those 6 to 8 million people will not be able to get a DTV signal over the air, in our engineers’ estimation. So there’s a number, a million, 2 million people, that live in our footprint, that are going to have to get satellite or cable to have connectivity to their television.”

Burke also noted that many of the government’s $40 coupons for over-the-air converter boxes are not being redeemed. And then there’s hooking up the box. “We provide, I think, a very low-cost alternative for somebody to reliably get service after the transition,” he said.

Comcast would soon begin a comprehensive marketing campaign related to the transition, according to Burke.

Comcast’s estimate of the number of households in its footprint that will lose over-the-air signals next February—20 to 30 percent—far exceeds the 5 percent figure FCC Chairman Kevin J. Martin cited when asked by Congress.

Meanwhile, Comcast keeps making money. It reeled in more than $8.5 billion in the second quarter, an 11 percent hop over the second quarter of 2007. Net income grew 8 percent to $632 million, despite a 2 percent drop in ad revenue.

Comcast’s Programming segment, including E! Entertainment Television, Style Network, The Golf Channel, VERSUS, and G4, saw a 10 percent revenue boost, to $366 million. Phone revenues grew 50 percent over the same period in 2007.

The company lost 138,000 basic subscribers and picked up 320,000 digital cable subs in the quarter bringing its digital product to 67 percent of its viewers.

In all, Comcast has 24.6 million cable subscribers, 14.4 million high-speed Internet customers and 5.6 million voice customers.