Comcast is making its push against over-the-top content distributors like Netflix and Hulu. Today, it took another step towards evening the playing field by enlisting Elemental Technologies, a video processing company that specializes in sending content to tablets and smartphones.
Comcast is one of the first cable companies to meaningfully compete in the content market, instead of being a "dumb pipe" operator. Comcast's desire to be in the content business became apparent with its massive take over of NBC Universal approved last year. In terms of content monetization against the other operators like Verizon, AT&T or Time Warner, Comcast is now ahead of the curve.
Included in this partnership is video management and publishing company thePlatform. Elemental and thePlatform are working together to bring more than 10,000 hours of Comcast/NBC Universal content to Comcast's XFinity application on iOS devices.
This move was not unexpected. NBC now has its own dedicated streaming application, just like ABC does with its ABC Player. The intrigue becomes apparent when you look at the XFinity streaming app in the context of Hulu Plus, which is reportedly looking to sell and has a number of possible suitors. Per its agreement with federal regulators when the NBC Universal takeover was granted, Comcast does not have a seat on Hulu's board and has no say in decisions that happen at the company. It is unlikely that the Federal Trade Commission would allow Comcast to buy Hulu outright from the other network partners (Fox and ABC), so coming up with a robust streaming application of its own makes a lot of sense.
"Because of Hulu and Netflix, Comcast has been incredibly agile for a $60 billion company," said Sam Blackman, CEO of Elemental.
Instead of being a CPU-intensive video processor, Elemental is primarily GPU (graphic processor unit) in its video processing, which makes it a lot more scalable than competitors that rely on CPU. Its technology allows content to be streamed across almost any device and over almost any bit-rate, making it very versatile and flexible. With the rise of IP content-streaming devices (like an actual Apple TV or Internet connected TVs), Elemental is only going to keep growing.
Comcast is also a partner in the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem consortium that is developing UltraViolet, the digital rights management solution kicked off by the networks and studios. Elemental is not a partner in DECE but it is following UltraViolet closely and will be able to conform to the standards (Common File Format) that UltraViolet is creating.
The question for Comcast is whether or not users will flock to the XFinity app like they have with Hulu and Netflix or even the ABC Player or HBO Go. This type of application was precisely what Comcast had in mind when it rebranded Comcast cable and Internet service to XFinity several years ago.