Cable MSOs Tout WiFi, New Interactive Program Guides

-- Comcast to Integrate Facebook Recommendations in XFINITY TV IPG

CHICAGO - [itvt] at NCTA – Broadband wireless services won't topple cable, top industry executives said here Thursday. Instead, cable is poised to profit by delivering content to mobile devices connected to its broadband infrastructure via WiFi connections, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at the closing general session at The Cable Show. 

"We're as relevant as we have ever been," Roberts said. While more consumers are relying on Apple's iPad and mobile devices to watch video, he said the iPad "doesn't work so well if you don't connect it to a broadband WiFi combo."

Roberts kicked off the session by demonstrating a new interactive program guide that Comcast will begin to deploy on some cable systems later this year. The guide includes a "friends trends" feature that allows subscribers to use Facebook to recommend content to friends, and to discover programming.  The new IPG also helps subscribers more easily search live TV, video-on-demand and content stored on a DVR (see video of Roberts demo below). Comcast's new guide could help it compete with advanced IPGs from Verizon's FiOS TV and other rivals. Verizon upgraded its FiOS Interactive Media Guide earlier this year with several new features, including DVR chaptering, which lets subscribers quickly navigate recorded content by viewing thumbnail images from videos. 

Cable MSOs are also building more WiFi hotspots to meet demand for mobile viewing. Cablevision COO Tom Rutledge told attendees that his cable company, which counts about 3 million subscribers in the New York metropolitan area, will soon install WiFi gear on trains, which could be popular with iO: Interactive Optimum subscribers who commute to work from New Jersey, Long Island, Westchester, and other New York suburbs. 

Roberts called WiFi a "game changer." Comcast has teamed up with Time Warner Cable and Cablevision to share the costs of building WiFi hotspots. 

While consumption of video on the Internet and mobile platforms continues to increase, Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha noted that 90 percent of video is consumed by viewers through broadband pipes connected to their homes. 

Jha predicted that user interfaces for consuming video on TV and mobile devices will improve significantly in the future. "I think one of the things we've done very well is change the user interface, making it much more social, making it more graphic, making it more intuitive, and personalizing it," Jha added. 

Comcast will continue to increase the speeds of Internet connections it offers subscribers, Roberts said. He demonstrated a 1 Gbps Internet connection that Comcast had at The Cable Show convention, showing how he could download 23 episodes of NBC's "30 Rock" in just 1 minute and 40 seconds. But Roberts didn't say when Comcast expects to be able to offer those wideband speeds to its cable customers (see video from Roberts speed demo below). 

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