MediaFile

Comcast turns the landline into mobile phone

Comcast, the largest U.S cable operator, is pushing ahead with its drive to transform the way Americans live with a range of new communications and video services launched at this year’s Cable Show  in Boston.

The latest is a new service called Voice 2go, part of its Xfinity Voice landline phone service, which offers lots of the features customers have become used to with cellphones.

The new features are based within a new Xfinity Connect mobile app that works on iPhones, iPads and Android phones. It enables Xfinity Voice customers to make free calls within a WiFi network — which is even more useful now that the Comcast and several other operators have enabled a common WiFi network across major U.S. cities. It also allows customers to use the service on 3G and 4G phones without eating up valuable minutes. As part of this it also enables free text messaging.

Another key feature is a virtual number offer similar to Google Voice, so a user can have up to four additional numbers within a home at no extra cost.

All this is great stuff for consumers who find these kinds of features helpful. But it might also help allay fears  of regulators, who are examining whether a Verizon wireless deals with Comcast and other cable operators will hurt competition.  This way, Comcast is giving them an alternative to signing up with wireless competitors.

TV 2012: A tale of two sets

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the era of big, it was the hour of small. It was the age of complexity, it was the era of simplicity. It was an epoch of freedom, it was a time of tyranny. It was the season of two dimensions, it was the moment of 3D. Everything was before us — and we have seen it all.

With apologies to Dickens, there’s a whole lot going on in the world of television, the medium that has dominated the world’s attention for three generations and was supposed to — at the very least — become an also-ran to the Internet. Convergence (in the 1990s’ sense of the word) is happening, but with no clear winner: Computers became TVs, and TVs are becoming internet-connected computers.

Likewise, TV programming has been in something of a renaissance for a decade — yeah, sure, for every Mad Men there’s a Work It (or 20 of them) — and even the experimentation in programs has something to do with technology, which has made it possible to watch on demand, and in places and at times of our choosing, and enabled new competition that entertains us with things that aren’t on TV at all.

Are kids wringing out SpongeBob?

Back in September, right before the quarter ended, Viacom trimmed  its advertising revenue outlook to high single digit growth from double digit growth. One of only a few media conglomerates to take that step–News Corp, Time Warner, and CBS were much more upbeat–the move prompted some concern among media watchers that advertisers were beginning to slash their budgets on macro-economic concerns.

But that wasn’t the case. It turns out the problem was Viacom specific. As the Sumner Redstone-controlled company disclosed during its fiscal fourth quarter results Thursday, domestic advertising revenue growth slowed in part because of a mid-September ratings plunge kids network Nickelodeon. Total domestic ad revenue across Viacom’s cable networks, which also includes MTV, VH1, and Comedy Central, for FQ4 was up 7 percent versus the third quarter’s climb of 12 percent.

What’s more is that Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman threw audience measurement company Nielsen Co under the bus on Thursday’s earnings call, saying the  ratings drop at Nickelodeon was “inexplicable.” He said Nielsen’s data did not match Viacom’s own set top box data for viewers. The company is currently in discussions with Nielsen– the dominant company that tracks TV ratings that determine ad rates — and the watchdog organization Media Ratings Council to resolve the situation.

Is Netflix the new cable guy?

Reed Hastings, CEO Netflix in Buenos Aires earlier this month

Customers tired of abuse from cable companies found a refuge in Netflix, the video rental service that won over Wall Street with a fast-growing and fiercely loyal stable of subscribers wowed by great customer service.
The old cable narrative has always been about cable cowboys acting like typical old world monopolies: providing poor customer service (here’s a video of a Comcast technician having a nap on the job), terrible user experience and still having the nerve to raise prices every year. Cable companies have changed and evolved in the last decade but not enough for many customers.
Netflix was supposed to be different — very different.
It had a responsive customer service, a pleasant user experience and also fairly simple pricing. It was the opposite of cable. In no time at all users were telling their friends about Netflix.
That might have all changed.
Netflix has angered so many customers it was forced to lower its fourth-quarter subscriber projections, and CEO Reed Hastings offered an apology for the company’s handling of a recent price increase.
Hastings acknowledged many subscribers “felt we lacked respect and humility” when the company announced in July it was raising the cost for DVD subscribers by as much as $6 a month, or 60 percent. He said he “messed up” and “slid into arrogance based upon past success.”
Hastings did not, however, roll back the price increase.
Many customers weren’t buying the apology, with negative reactions piling up on the Netflix blog. Plus, Hastings provoked more anger by moving the DVD business to a separate website from the streaming service. That will force customers of both services to visit two different sites.

from Ask...:

How fast is your broadband?

The FCC report released today on advertised broadband speeds praises Internet Service Providers like Verizon that are bridging the gap between how fast your Internet connection can be and what they actually deliver.

Fiber-to-home services scored top marks for averaging 114 percent of advertised download speeds during peak hours of congestion. Cable services met 93 percent of advertised speeds during the same hours, while DSL met 82 percent.

But the aggregate data in the FCC study on broadband speeds masks regional disparities.

What’s all this about TV cord cutting?

When media bigwigs argue that they haven’t seen any evidence of real cord-cutting — and, believe us, they love to argue this point –  they can back it up with some new statistics from researchers over at SNL Kagan. For those of you who have fallen behind with industry jargon, cord-cutting is the idea that Americans are canceling cable and satellite television subscriptions because so many movies and TV shows can now be found on the Web — for far less than the cost of pay-TV. Huge issue, obviously, since these subscripti0ns are a pillar of today’s TV business. Not only are they the chief source of revenue for cable and satellite companies, but they help line the pockets of media companies such as Time Warner or  Disney who collect fees for the TV shows they create.

Understandably, industry executives often downplay cord-cutting, attributing subscriber losses to factors like a bad housing market and high unemployment. For sure, it’s hard to know exactly why the industry lost hundreds of thousands of subscribers over the second and third quarters of last year. But SNL Kagan’s figures suggest the picture may not be as bleak as many feared.

The numbers show that while the pay-TV industry — including cable, satellite and telecommunications companies — lost about 335,000 subscribers in the middle of 2010, the losses subsided by the final months of the year. In fact, the industry added 65,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, the data suggests. In all, the industry ended the quarter with 100.1 million subscribers, up slightly from both the third quarter and the fourth quarter of 2009.

Relief in Philadelpia? NBCU profit up 13 percent

NBC Universal’s quarterly results — still wrapped into the General Electric numbers — should have some of the folks down in Philadelphia smiling this weekend. The numbers didn’t set the world on fire, but both profit and revenue showed improvement thanks to (what else) the cable division.

Overall, NBCU’s quarterly profit rose 13 percent to $607 million. Revenue climbed 5 percent to $3.75 billion.

Keith Sherin, GE’s finance chief, credited Jeff Zucker with delivering what he called “a strong performance” and said the regulatory review of the sale to Comcast “is progressing as expected.”

Census Bureau: Newspapers, radio had a really bad 2008

Newspapers

People say you shouldn’t trust the government, but their news about the declining health of the newspaper and radio business is hard to dispute.  Read the Census Bureau’s press release, out on Wednesday,  about the tough times hitting the business in 2008, the most recent year for which comprehensive data has been compiled:

Newspaper Publishers Revenues Decline in 2008

Newspaper publishers experienced a single-year decline in total revenue of 8.3 percent — from $47.9 billion in 2007 to $43.9 billion in 2008. This followed a more modest decline of 2.7 percent in 2007, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today.

A major contributor to the overall loss in revenues for the industry was the decline in advertising space revenue for general newspapers, which dropped 10.2 percent — from $30.9 billion in 2007 to $27.8 billion in 2008. Revenue from newspaper subscriptions remained largely unchanged over the period, from $8.3 billion in 2007 to $8.2 billion in 2008.

from Summit Notebook:

Discovery CEO talks about Oprah, her show, and OWN

Now that Oprah Winfrey has set a date for when the sun will set on her syndicated talk show -- Sept 2011 -- everybody wants to know if she will recreate the show on OWN. OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network, is the cable channel set to flicker on in some 80 million homes in January 2011 with Discovery Communications.

At the Reuters Media Summit in New York, Reuters Paul Thomasch put the question directly to David Zaslav, the chief executive of Discovery Communications:


REUTERS:
Do you expected Oprah will dedicate a lot of time to the OWN network?
DISCOVERY: When we announced OWN, Oprah talked about it as being 'her' media company. Its a 50-50 venture. We think it's going to be very significant asset. But Oprah is the chairman, she's the chief creative officer. Shes spends a lot of time on it with me and the staff, she's involved in all the creative decisions she has a ton of energy and great creativity. We always expected that she was going to be spending a lot of time in front of the screen and behind the screen.  Its a big win for us and the cable industry that (she) will be available primarily on OWN. OWN will really feel the strength and creativity of her presence.

from Summit Notebook:

ESPN: We all live in sports towns (And tell great jokes)

ESPN President George Bodenheimer has been at the business of TV sports, one way or another, for nearly three decades, starting in the mailroom and working his way up.

It's the classic media story -- and this one even involved a stint driving through nearly every little town in Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi to sell this odd new 24-hour sports network to cable distributors.

Here's one thing he's learned: Every town thinks it's a sports town. Sort of like everybody thinks they have a good sense of humor.