Cable TV In Pursuit Of Mobility


Destroy this top-secret strategy document after reading. It could be devastating to our business interests if it fell into the wrong hands — like The New York Times or something.

Fellow Comcastians, this is a difficult time for the cable TV business. We’ve been losing subscribers. These young people today, with their loud hair and long music! They don’t watch TV on TV sets anymore. They watch it online! Free episodes on Ad-free episodes from iTunes. Unlimited past seasons on Netflix.

These people are actually proud to cancel their cable TV service. Not a healthy trend.


We’re not going to sit here watching the Internet nibble away at our very existence, people. We’re not going to behave like the music industry, either. We won’t start suing people for going with the technological flow. We need to work with the changing times instead of fighting them.

We may be the most hated cable company, but we’re also the biggest. We can do pretty much anything we want.

So for the last few years, we’ve been fighting technology with technology. We started by creating, a Web site that acts like the world’s biggest TiVo. We let Comcast subscribers with a plan costing more than $58 a month watch recent shows online, whenever they want, most at no extra charge.

We have 150,000 TV shows and movies available. Kind of like Hulu, actually, except that we have all the major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox and 85 others) and Hulu is missing some big ones, like CBS and PBS.

That’s enormous. People don’t want to watch a certain show by tuning in at 8 p.m. on Thursday on CBS anymore. People want on-demand, people. Our customers watch 350 million shows a month on our site.

And that’s only one of the Big Three Internet/TV Synergies. A second one is remote DVR programming. That is, you can program your Comcast cable box to record shows using the mouse and keyboard, in a Web browser, as TiVo owners have been able to do for years.

And the third synergy is remote control: changing the channel on your TV, using your laptop. (It’s loads of fun when your spouse is downstairs trying to watch “The Bachelor.”)

But the Web browser was only the beginning. The new frontier is the tablet, people.

Imagine using your iPad or Android tablet as the world’s thinnest, lightest, most portable wireless TV. Park it on the kitchen table while you’re chopping salad. Park it on the bathroom counter while you’re washing up. Let your children clutch it in bed when they’re home sick.

Well, you can stop imagining. Our new Xfinity app for iPad is a thing of beauty. Frankly, it’s a lot smoother, better-looking and easy to understand than the Web site.

Drag your finger vertically on the TV guide to scroll through your channels. Drag horizontally to slide later in the day’s schedule. It’s a touch-screen remote, too. Tap a network’s name to change channels on your TV — a lot more fun, and more comprehensible, than hitting numbers on a traditional remote.

Or use the iPad to program your DVR. Tap a show’s name to reveal a Record button (and a Record Series button). Beats the heck out of painstakingly clicking out a show’s name using an onscreen alphabet.

Our iPad app also does that on-demand thing, and here’s where things get confusing. Tap OnDemand to view a list of 25,000 TV shows and movies, mostly free, that you can play instantly — on your TV. Once again, you’re using the iPad only as a remote control, not as a TV.

But if you tap Play Now, you taste the honey. You can browse or search 3,000 hours of recent TV shows and movies, and begin playing them instantly on the iPad. It’s a fantastic experience, with good picture and sound quality.

Yes, our iPad app is not perfect. It has some bugs, for one thing. Furthermore, the shows are depicted as thumbnail rectangles, often with truncated titles (want to watch “Monsters vs...”?). You really ache for a simple list.

When you choose an On Demand show on the iPad, the TV first shows a confirmation screen, requiring your O.K. You shouldn’t have to hunt for a second remote to get the show going.

And above all, we need to beef up that catalog of iPad-playable shows. That 3,000 hours isn’t really very much — in fact, at the moment, it’s almost exclusively movies and premium channels (HBO, Showtime and so on). You’re not going to find “60 Minutes” or “Glee” or “Nova.” But our negotiating teams are going nonstop, and our C.E.O. has said he won’t quit until every show in your Comcast package is available to watch online or on your gadgets.

You should also know that we’re working on the ultimate: live TV on the iPad within your home. All your channels, real time, in your hand. Can you imagine?

Well, we can, because we have it working in our labs in Philadelphia. We’ll have it ready by the end of the year.

But let’s face it, people: that’s not good enough. We’re not the only cable operators in town, and our competitors are breathing down our necks.

Those pesky customers

TIME WARNER New iPad app later this month. It will deliver that amazing live-TV-on-the-tablet thing. No remote-control or DVR-programming features yet, and it will offer only about 36 channels in the first version. But they’re surely hammering out network deals just as fast as we are.

CABLEVISION It already has an iPad/iPhone/Android app that lets you program your DVR and even see what’s on it. By the end of this month, it will be the first with an iPad app that offers full streaming of all the channels you subscribe to. On your iPad. So sweet.

AT&T U-VERSE It has the same kind of Web site we do —100,000 shows ready to watch for subscribers — and a wicked pretty app (for iPhone, Touch, Android, iPad, Windows 7 Phone and BlackBerry) that’s a remote control, does DVR programming and lets you download shows to take with you, so you can watch outside the home. Only a few shows are available for downloading that way (ABC/Disney and ESPN stuff mainly), and they don’t work on iPad. But wow — what a great idea. You’ve already paid for your TV. Why shouldn’t you be allowed to take with you?

VERIZON FIOS It has remote and DVR-programming apps, and you can buy shows to watch on your PC. It says it will offer streaming live TV on the iPad by the end year’s end.

SATELLITE DirecTV has a new iPad remote-control app. Some Dish boxes have Sling players built in, which lets you watch your recordings or live TV anywhere on phones and computers. (Of course, the Sling player isn’t unique to Dish; anyone can buy one.)

We have a lot of work to do. The Comcast Android app that we released this week doesn’t play any video — it’s just a remote control and DVR-programming tool. We want to bring video to the iPhone and Touch, too. Above all, we, and our competitors, need to build up our spotty catalog. Forget getting back to the moon or reducing our oil consumption — let’s set a national goal to get all TV shows available online by 2015!

Times are changing, people. We’re changing too. We’re hedging bets like mad — heck, we own 32 percent of Hulu. And in the end, if the world wants to watch TV online, we won’t exactly be crying — don’t forget, we sell high-speed Internet service, too.

Hate to say it, but this competition stuff makes our jobs a lot harder. We’ll have to keep making TV better and more convenient, or else we’ll lose customers.

Customers. Sheesh. If it weren’t for them, this might actually be a pleasant business.

David Pogue is a columnist for the New York Times and contributor to CNBC. He can be emailed at: