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June 12, 2013

X-Man - Comcast's Roberts Touts Next Big Thing... Again

It has only been a year since Comcast debuted X1, its cloud-based architecture designed to take TV to the next level. But before the MSO has even finished rolling it out to its entire footprint, Comcast chmn/CEO Brian Roberts on Tues once again took the main stage at the Cable Show to show off the next version called X2.

"The cloud is a game changer," said Roberts. "There's a vibe at Comcast that I haven't seen in many, many years." During an earlier on-stage interview, Roberts acknowledged that making all content available across devices is never easy as all sides wrangle. And he said that dynamic even takes place within Comcast as it manages its content and distribution units. "We're like a family," he said. "Sometimes it looks messy."

Industry wide, he said all sides must create win-wins—or risk watching customers go elsewhere. "I continue to believe that we work together, and both sides can come out great," he said. "If you don't have your products on every platform, you're missing a generation." He also admitted TV Everywhere stumbles, arguing that "we haven't made it as easy as we need to... We're looking at all these problems. It's very fixable." He said TVE triumphs include NBCU's well-received multiplatform coverage of the Olympics in London last year as well as plans to expand access for the upcoming games in Socci. And he noted Comcast's recent "Watchathon," which opened up the TVE floodgates on massive amounts of TV content for a week. "For each of us, the answer is not the same," he said. "And we as distributors and content need to embrace that."

Enter X2, which Roberts hopes will start to tip the balance. Comcast has already tweaked its X1 platform a whopping 1200 times in the last year, but Roberts framed the X2 migration as a more substantial shift to an even slicker, more integrated platform that includes myriad new features including Web video integration, parental protections, more social media fun, "tablet-like" navigation (that ports more easily to those 2nd-screen devices) and even enhanced features for people with disabilities.

It's also a more personal, customizable interface. A 4X faster and 3X smaller set-top that uses 50% less energy also will roll out in lockstep with the upgrades—although X2 will run on many legacy boxes. A smaller and simpler remote also will launch with the box. "I think we're just scratching the surface," Roberts told attendees.

Later at a press conference at Comcast's booth, Roberts seemed even more excited about X2, calling it a "quantum leap forward" and an opportunity to exploit an "inflection point" between consumer behavior and technology. "I think we're going to have the best television service available," he said, adding that X2 will ensure that all customers get "one experience across the entire Comcast footprint" no matter what generation set-top box is in use.

So is X3 already in the works? Comcast CTO Tony Werner said Comcast will look at major upgrades of both software and boxes approx every 12 to 18 months—keeping a close eye on changing consumer behavior and expectations.

And yes, it's still all about the speed. Before Roberts launched into his X2 pitch (and as Google continues to announce 1-gig plans in various cities), he demoed the real-world capabilities of Comcast's broadband network, downloading in only a few seconds a 4K/UltraHD-quality video clip that weighed in at 4 gigabytes. The speedtest showed 3.282Gbps.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story originally appeared in CableFAX Daily. Go here to subscribe.







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