Speaking With Comcast's Queen of Convergence

Comcast is a quarter of the way through what could be its year of embracing convergence. Recognizing just how much damage over-the-top video could do to its bottom line, the cable giant is adding content and services as part of a unified communications and entertainment package.

Will customers continue to subscribe to such services as part of a bundle, or will they elect to buy access to the pipe only? I spoke with Cathy Avgiris, who was recently promoted to the role of senior vice-president and general manager of communications & data services for Comcast. As such, she is now responsible for the company's Xfinity feature, as well as its digital voice, mobile, and wireline broadband offerings.

GigaOM: What is the value of the bundle in a converged world?
Cathy Avgiris:
We enable our customers to enjoy the services they have from Comcast on as many platforms as possible—it's less about an individual product than the experience. They are able to watch some shows on a PC and we have a broadband suite of services such as security and online storage. You can see us extending that to, say, video content that you'll want to store in the cloud and access from anywhere, with the phone holding that together.

And landlines?
As for landlines, they still matter. Eighty percent have a wired phone and I want to participate in that market share. At the end of 2009 we had 16% penetration, so there's a lot of opportunity to offer phone services tied to our other products—so you get voice mail via e-mail or caller ID on your TV. It's less about competing as a traditional telephone provider and [more about] being the converged provider.

What are the challenges for Comcast as services converge? Do cord-cutters frighten you?
We have an amazing backbone infrastructure and the first application for why we needed a connected network was to offer broadband. Digital voice was step two, and over time you'll see more video enabled over our IP network.

True IPTV? When?
We have 24 million customers on a platform that exists today and we will leverage and maintain it and continue to improve it. That evolution will happen over time, but that's why we're providing some video content online and enabling certain video functions like remote programming from the DVR.

So is broadband a profit center, as I see when I look at your earnings? Or is it a commodity that could be traded out if the market were more competitive?
There is an element that is access and provides access to other services and features and what you would expect from Comcast, but there is also the comprehensive suite that could protect your computer and offer storage and give access to your content. We want to offer extra value as a service provider and keep you as a customer.

What about wireless? You are in a partnership with Clearwire for 4G but customers also want Wi-Fi access outside the home. Is that something Comcast would offer? Is it competitive to selling Clear's mobile broadband?
Our mobility strategy has several legs—with the 4G in partnership with Clearwire; mobile applications; and then there's Wi-Fi, which we've done a number of different things with, such as partner with Cablevision for Comcast Wi-Fi on trains in the Northeast. As for more Wi-Fi hotspots, we're testing that out and will see how it plays. With Wi-Fi and mobile 3G and 4G, the whole point is enabling the customers to take their experience inside the home outside the home. But for timing on Wi-Fi rollouts, we've no specific plans or announcements on hotspots. It's really early for us and we're focused on Wi-Fi in the home.

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