A group of developers at Comcast is creating apps that turn events like the Olympics and March Madness from confusing to connected.
It's part of an effort by the cable giant to allow subscribers a "deeper dive" into their favorite TV shows and movies through mobile apps, as Comcast fires a shot across the bow of challengers such as Netflix and local rival EPB.
In the past, a bevy of competitors has put shows online, negating for some the need for traditional cable TV. Now Comcast is joining the party in a big way, marketing its digital library and making it accessible from the same spaces where competitors traditionally have enjoyed free reign.
The company's pay once, watch everywhere philosophy opens its digital library of nearly 75,000 titles, making shows available on iPad and computer the day after they're broadcast on TV. The new content and apps on new devices cost nothing for existing customers.
"Anyplay gives you the ability to watch the game even while you're grilling on the deck," said Jim Weigert, vice president and general manager for Comcast in Chattanooga. "It's great for kids' rooms too, so you don't have to have a TV in every single room in the house."
Soon, all of Comcast's On Demand content also will be available on the Xbox 360, which boasts 65.8 million installed units. Two of the tech gurus responsible for new technology brought the as-yet-unreleased Xbox 360 app to Chattanooga for a preview, saying it's just a taste of things to come.
They say it's part of the company's answer for the so-called "cord cutters" who cancel their cable subscription in favor of speedy Internet and video streaming.
The answer is content.
As the No. 1 provider of video and residential Internet service in the U.S., Comcast owns or has access to more content than its competitors, especially in light of its takeover of NBC Universal completed in early 2011, said Todd Gold, executive editor for Xfinity TV.
"Our problem is more how when you have access to everything, how do you entertain your audience," Gold said.
Part of his job is pulling out hidden gems of content to show consumers, working through social media to make customers allies rather than antagonists.
For the same flat $29.95 that users already pay for their TV service, they now can pick up their iPad or Android tablet, walk to any room in the house and indulge in a nonstop "Arrested Development" marathon, he said.
A new application on Microsoft's Xbox allows users to wave their hands or use their voice to pick a TV show from the couch, though Comcast still is waiting for Microsoft to approve it.
If the boss isn't looking, workers can queue up shows, decide what to record and even create favorite lists of On Demand content during the day -- then come home and let their TV do all the work.
Movies, once the domain of rental empires like Blockbuster, are increasingly moving into the digital realm, where users can access a huge library for a monthly fee, said Tom Blaxland, senior director for Xfinity TV.
"Historically, you've always had to go buy the latest physical media like Blu-Ray," Blaxland said. "Now your subscription gives you all of that."
There's even a new term for when consumers record so much content on their DVR that they have to delete unwatched shows to make room for new ones: "Ti-No," according to Blaxland.
The cable giant's embrace of giving away all the goodies in every format serves both to remind users of why they pay that monthly live TV subscription, and to build brand loyalty in the long term, he said.
"Hulu only does certain networks, while we have all the networks," he said, noting that other rivals like Netflix force users to wait for months before offering new content. "Netflix will get it two years behind, but we have the current episodes of "30 Rock" and we also have all the way back to season one."
Building on the success of Comcast's March Madness mobile app, which allows subscribers to browse their bracket and watch any game with just a touch, the company also is plotting an app to take on the Olympics.
NBC bought the rights to the Olympics through 2020, and Comcast plans to take advantage of the arrangement, he said.
Gold claims that the developers, who hail from Philadelphia, have found a way to make the 32 summer sports as easy to navigate as the March Madness tournament.
"People won't have the anxiety of missing something," Gold said.
The Olympics application for mobile devices will allow users to jump from event to event, schedule times for their DVR to record and even allow them to jump from event to event from any room in the house," Gold said.
"We'll have profiles of athletes, tours of London, local color, previews of events, every angle," he said.
The app will be ready in about 20 days, allowing for 100 days of lead-up for true Olympics fans, he said. But, there's a catch. "It's just for Comcast customers," he said.
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