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Comcast X1, CNNx and the future of pay TV

Comcast X1 Apps Guide

I glimpsed the future of pay-TV at the TV of Tomorrow (TVOT) show in San Francisco today. That future sees the cable channels taking charge of the experience of their content, while the operators continue to provide the consolidated view of it all.

Matt Strauss, SVP and GM of Video Services at Comcast, demonstrated a new version of the company’s popular X1 TV service. He showed how the guide has really become 7 different guides in one. Of course, the traditional grid guide is still there, but Comcast has begun to focus the rest of the interface around common tasks and usage models. For example, there are guides for Kids Content, On-Demand, Search and even an interface that features what shows are currently trending on Twitter. The “Saved for You” guide replaces the DVR view of content. Here a subscriber will find recorded shows as well as purchased movies (remember, Comcast now sells digital copies of movies.)

The seventh guide, the Apps interface, exists today in X1. This is where subscribers can find weather, traffic and even read their astrology forecast. However, it is also a place where subs can find TV, coming over the Internet. In the demonstration Mr. Strauss gave, the NBC Sports Live app was also shown in the apps guide. On my TV Everywhere panel earlier in the day, Chris Faulkner of NBCU said that all the live Sochi Olympics coverage available on the web had also been made available to X1 customers. And there was the proof in Mr. Strauss’ demo. This brings me to the second demonstration shown at TVOT.

CNNx appKC Estenson, SVP and GM of CNN Digital, showed the recently released CNNx app. While the broadcast CNN channel is still present, it has been shifted to the upper left of the display (a user can, of course, make it full screen if desired.) To the right of the video, the user can browse the current show, decompose it into the various segments and watch just the pieces that interest them. The user can also get more information on any topic or issue covered with related digital content that is automatically curated in real time. In short, the user can create their own customized view of the news.

Mr. Estenson said the company has also taken the CNNx app one step further, and ported it to some of the more advanced operator set-top box. Presumably, it could run as an app on the Comcast X1 set-top box, just like NBC Sports Live.

As I watched the CNNx demonstration, one thing became very clear: the company best qualified to manage the CNN experience (online or on TV) is CNN. After seeing the impressive HuffPost Live interface, companies like CNN will need that control to keep pace with online competitors!

So, perhaps this is a glimpse of the evolving relationship between content providers and operators. Operators allow subscribers to find the shows and experiences they seek across all their content partners. Once the subscriber has found what they are looking for, the experience of delivery is handed over to the content provider app.

Why it matters

Cable content providers are taking charge of the delivery of their content by providing apps directly to their viewers.

They need to do this to provide a competitive experience.

Operators can continue to provide value to customers by aggregating these apps together and facilitating discovery of content across them.

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