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Comcast plans portal revamp

For the first time since selling off Excite@Home, Comcast is taking Web programming into its own hands, offering video, music and other content to broadband subscribers.

Cable giant Comcast this fall will unveil a revamped version of its home page that will offer splashier multimedia features, including video programming for its cable broadband subscribers.

In an interview with CNET Friday, Comcast executives said they will offer additional content and features to its 4 million cable modem subscribers. While the company is mum on specifics, it's the first time since selling off Excite@Home that Comcast has taken Web programming into its own hands.

Changes will begin to appear in July, when Comcast moves AT&T Broadband customers over to its network and domain address. Some content elements will be added on, but the bulk of the facelift will launch in the fall.

The relaunch will be "cinematic in its focus," according to Charlie Herrin, Comcast Internet's senior director of business development. Herrin said the portal group plans to focus on games, photo imaging, music and communications, but declined to talk about any specific partnerships.

Executives also refused to detail how the company will secure multimedia rights with major content providers, saying only that Comcast will take advantage of its relationships in video programming.

As demand grows for residential broadband, access providers such as cable and telephone companies are attracting the most subscribers. But Web portals are scrambling to beef up their own services, hoping to attract people with their high-bandwidth content and services.

A nebulous market has sparked battles among online services America Online, Microsoft's MSN, Yahoo and RealNetworks. All four have invested in securing multimedia content and services to attract broadband users.

AOL and MSN have the most at stake. Both services have witnessed subscriber declines over the past two quarters and are beginning to market their offerings to customers contemplating defection to cable or digital subscriber line access. AOL and MSN have touted their "bring your own access" initiatives, which charge $14.95 and $9.95 per month, respectively, for people to remain members while accessing the Net through a third party.

Greg Butz, vice president of marketing and business development for Comcast's high-speed Internet group, said the company has no plans to compete aggressively with the likes of portal powerhouses AOL, MSN and Yahoo.

"We have not viewed the portal as uniquely separate from access," he said. "It's part of a value proposition that the customer has with us."

For Comcast, stepping into the portal business may conjure up bad memories. AT&T Broadband, which Comcast aquired, was a major investor in Excite@Home, which tried to sell cable modem access while programming a broadband Web portal. The disastrous merger between Web portal Excite and cable modem service @Home crumbled early last year, partially due to the expense of maintaining the portal side of the business.

Comcast acquired AT&T Broadband in November 2002 and is now the nation's largest cable company and cable modem service.