Boxee CEO Avner Ronen put up a slide at the NewTeeVee confab in San Francisco Thursday that showed a startling trend: There will be more Apple (AAPL) iTunes subscribers than Comcast (CMSCA) subscribers within a few years, Ronen contended. Them's fighting words for cable and programming giant Comcast, which is putting up a lively fight to keep control of customers in the face of incursions both from tech giants like Apple, with its Apple TV product, and upstarts like Boxee, which offers a browser that acts like a TV guide for video content available online.
To this end, Comcast is on the brink of rolling out a video-on-demand service to most of its customers that would let them watch programming paid for under their Comcast subscription on any device and over any type of reasonably fast connection. Called Fancast, this untethered access would compete directly with Apple, as well as Netflix (NFLX), Verizon (VZ) and Qualcomm (QCOM)."We've long believed people aren't interested in content just because it's online," Comcast Interactive Media president Amy Banse told attendees at the conference. "They are interested in it because it's on-demand. We all want to be able to watch what we want, when we want, where we want." Banse said that Comcast does not fear these incursions and welcomes the competition.
But the on-demand offering about to be rolled out appears to bear the hallmarks of earlier half-hearted cable efforts to give customers more control over their content. For example, only three devices per household account will be enabled to use Comcast's new Fancast service. That's far fewer devices than are actually connected to the Internet or used for video content in most houses with families, where parents and children alike have laptops and smart phones. The history of the content business is littered with failed attempts to foist crippleware on subscribers, who quickly figure out they can get their fix of content elsewhere, with more flexibility, and often for free.
Of course, Fancast will have some offerings that will not be available on the broader Internet. Comcast has a strong network of local sports broadcasts that have an extremely loyal following. That said, many of those offerings can also be accessed online via services like MLB.com, which allows streaming access to live content for all baseball games anywhere for subscribers. That a tiny startup in New York is now on relatively equal footing with a behemoth like Comcast demonstrates that the entire television and broadcast content landscape has shifted dramatically, and bigger shifts are likely still to come.
Alex Salkever is Senior Writer at AOL Daily Finance covering technology and greentech. Follow him on twitter @alexsalkever, read his articles, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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