Hulu-esque service only available to subscribers

After a successful trial run, cable giant Comcast Corp. is poised to accelerate the rollout of its Hulu-esque online programming service by the end of the year.

The biggest remaining hurdle is how quickly Nielsen can begin generating ratings for programs that are viewed online through the Comcast on Demand Online (CODO). Comcast’s service differs from Hulu in that it is only available to users who already subscribe to Comcast cable service and are given a password in order to view programs online on an on-demand basis.

Comcast and Time Warner Cable are leading the charge to make more pay and basic cable programming available for online viewing, so long as viewers pay the freight through their monthly subscription fees. Among the hot properties available on CODO are HBO’s “True Blood” and TNT’s “The Closer.”

The dawn of Comcast’s service and others like it (DirecTV is said to be developing a similar initiative) is sure to hike the overall level of online video viewing, and it is likely to put some pressure on the Hulu partners — News Corp., NBC Universal and Disney — to add some form of pay component to its ad-supported free service. (Ironically, Comcast may wind up with an ownership stake in Hulu if Comcast completes the deal it is negotiating to acquire a 51% stake in NBC U.)

CBS and the 20-plus basic cable nets who are contributing programming to Comcast’s service, a list that includes TNT, TBS, Discovery and A&E, are eager for Nielsen to track online viewing so that those auds can be added to a show’s overall cume rating that also encompasses live viewing and DVR playback.

Programs and movies from HBO and Starz are also available on CODO, but those feevee nets are less concerned with ratings measurement because they are not advertiser-supported.

A Nielsen spokesman said the company is in the midst of talking to its major TV and advertiser clients to discuss the possibility of speeding up its timetable for launching a service that would use the same sample aud to track TV and Internet vid viewing. At present, Nielsen has several different samples for national TV viewing and Internet ratings.

Nielsen has a tentative plan to initiate Internet measurement in a representative sample of the 18,000 homes in its national PeopleMeter TV ratings service by early 2011. At a recent meeting involving about 80 major clients with a dog in the ratings fight, some pushed for Nielsen to move faster on integrating the TV and Internet samples, while others raised concerns about the Internet push possibly diluting the quality of the TV measurement.

The Nielsen rep said the company expects to give clients an answer about its timetable by the end of the year.

Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Comcast Corp., told a tech confab in San Francisco last week that it was pleased with the results of the trial that began over the summer with 5,000 Comcast subscribers and recently expanded to 7,000. The trial was mounted largely to test the viability password-protected “authentication” technology. Users averaged 21 minutes of viewing per visit in June, July and August, Comcast said.

Roberts said the company would make CODO available to its 23.9 million subscribers by year’s end. The service will still be a work in progress for some time as it undergoes refinements and adds content partners.

“I think video over the Net is friend not foe,” Roberts told the Web 2.0 Summit on Oct. 20. He added that online program access from cable providers is “a big step forward in giving the consumer what they want.”

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