Comcast's goal: Integrate the screens
Webware's Rafe Needleman interviews Amy Banse, president of Comcast Interactive Media and architect of the company's acquisitions of Fandango, Plaxo, and other Web 2.0 companies.
As was pointed out to me numerous times when I led our conversation into non-Web site territory (such as Net neutrality and customer support), Banse's Interactive group is quite separate from the Comcast video team, the Internet service provider business, and the telephone business.
It's her group that acquired the business-to-business video platform service ThePlatform, the movie ticket marketplace Fandango (which itself ), and the contact and personal content integration play Plaxo.
Internally, Comcast Interactive runs the portal site Comcast.net (not to be confused with the billing site, Comcast.com; why can't they just have one site?), and it built the media organizer Fancast, which strikes me as the most ambitious project in the group.
Banse's goal is to "attempt to integrate the screens," by which she means the television, the computer, and the phone. Fancast will manage the first of those two. Right now, it's a useful service for finding professional video content that you can watch on your PC.
Eventually, the idea is that if a show you want is available on your cable box, either scheduled or via video-on-demand, Fancast will be able to connect to your box and record the show for you. Or stream a show from your PC to your living room. "I really want to get the 'record to DVR' button done," Banse said, indicating that we may get that feature in 18 to 24 months.
That's a long time from now, for those of us used to tracking Web 2.0 companies. Banse agreed with me that the cable television user experience is evolving at a rather relaxed pace, compared to the agility of what we see on the Web. She believes that consumers will eventually integrate their computer and television experiences by using their PCs to pick content they like and program their DVRs through them, and that when users' DVRs are more universally accessible from the Web, it will take some of the pressure off of them to evolve as quickly as Web apps are.
Other Comcast products also support Banse's integration vision. Comcast's SmartZone, announced last year, will merge e-mail and Comcast voice mail, as well as contacts from Plaxo.
Comcast doesn't yet offer much integration for mobile users. The company is betting on WiMax to open the mobile market up to it. Banse said Comcast will offer a handheld WiMax device. Presumably, the device will have access to Comcast voice service and also be able to play content that's been queued up on Fancast. See.
We wrapped up by talking about Banse's acquisition strategy. She didn't lay out any particular problem she's looking to solve through acquiring a technology company, but rather repeated her overall strategy: "creating the best Internet video experience," which means looking at search technology, video technology, content management, and "profitability across screens."
When it comes to the goal of getting content to flow seamlessly between devices and screens, Banse thinks, "we're in the bottom of the first inning."
I'd say that's a fair assessment for Comcast, with companies such as Apple and Microsoft a bit further ahead. Neither of these companies have Comcast's presence in the living room, though. It's going to be an interesting to watch as the Web battleground continues to shift from the computer to the entertainment center.