Comcast to offer cable shows online for free

At a briefing at its Philadelphia headquarters last week, Comcast announced that it would make several popular cable TV shows available to its subscribers via the Internet for free, including HBO’s “Entourage” and AMC’s “Mad Men.”

Comcast's national rollout of its “On Demand Online” service comes months after the cable operator announced partnerships with 24 cable TV networks and broadcasters. Company executives said cable networks such as HBO would decide how much to put online. Some will include the current season's episodes only, while others could include archives of past seasons.

Brian Roberts, Comcast CEO, showed off the new service at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday, likening it to “video on demand on steroids.”

The offerings expand on what cable networks now make available online. Broadcast networks have been running full episodes of many shows for free on sites like Hulu, but cable networks have typically resisted. AMC’s Web site, for instance, has the season premiere of “Mad Men” in its entirety but only video summaries of subsequent episodes.

According to industry sources, access will be closely protected. Comcast subscribers can initially watch shows and movies only on their home computers after being verified by the cable system. And for now, the online viewing will be restricted to those who also get Internet service through Comcast, not through competitors like phone companies.

Viewers can access the cable shows and movies through Comcast-owned and and eventually on the Web site of cable networks such as AMC, which is owned by Cablevision Systems. After users log in, the cable system will perform such checks as whether a Comcast cable modem is being used. Comcast also plans to allow subscribers to rent and buy shows and movies through an integrated store on

Similar plans are in the works at other pay TV operators, including Time Warner Cable, Verizon Communications and DIRECTV.

Comcast plans to generate revenue by adding more and different types of ads on the sites. The company declined to comment about any type of revenue-sharing arrangements with cable networks.