Comcast's HD Strategy to Focus on VOD

Comcast doesn't need to rush to upgrade its plants to 1 GHz capacity, but it plans to improve its messaging about its HD offerings, aggressively rolling out video-on-demand programming as it tries to assert its leadership in the HD marketplace.

Fresh from CES, Comcast Chief Financial Officer Michael Angelakis told analysts that some mistakes have been made, but Comcast's HD future is huge.

And he told analysts in Phoenix for the Citi 18th Annual Global Entertainment, Media and Telecommunications Conference to steer away from thinking about just the number of channels video competitors may offer.

"I don't think it's the quantity of HD channels, linear, I think it's the quality of them," he said. "I think we are really very intent on improving our HD messaging, and that will incorporate a large marketing effort, and image effort and so forth, as well as truly rolling out more HD channels and putting more HD boxes in the homes."

Through the first three-quarters of 2007, Comcast deployed about 1.7 million HD set-top boxes, he said.

His comments followed company announcements of expanded services from Comcast. As part of an initiative dubbed Project Infinity, the company vowed at CES to bring consumers 1,000 HD "choices" in 2008 (counting on-demand selections) and to eventually give consumers "the ability to watch any movie, television show, user generated content or other video that a producer wants to make available On Demand."

Comcast said its VOD viewership has grown dramatically, surpassing 6 billion views since 2003, now with up to 100 views begun each second and 275 million views monthly. Beginning in 2009, Comcast plans to offer more than 6,000 movies a month, more than 3,000 of them in HD.

The company also announced, an online destination that will enable customers to find, manage and watch a variety of television and movie content. Fancast will also enable users to program their DVR recordings from their computers.

Angelakis conceded to investors that some mistakes were made to exacerbate the soft economic conditions and increased competition in 2007. For example, the company could have spent less on high-end HD and DVR set-top boxes.

"I think those were great investments for us and we should continue to make those investment, and clearly we overspent what we were anticipating spending in that area," he said.

An economic boost anticipated for the fourth quarter never materialized, he said.

The company is still robust, he said, and 2008 is going to be a year "about execution."

He said the company will continue to promote research that shows people prefer Comcast's HDTV to satellite offerings.

He also said the company had no broad-brush plans to upgrade its plants to 1 GHz capacity, although upgrades would occur naturally as plants underwent rebuilding. "I think we're pretty comfortable where we are," he said. The company would also conduct more testing of switched digital video technology, which promises vast increases in possible channel offerings.