Comcast to ring in more video deals

Cable subs get free access to Sony, MGM pix

NEW YORK — Topper Brian Roberts said Monday that Comcast’s digital video-on-demand cable customers will have free access to 200 MGM and Sony movie titles by the end of the year, along with numerous TV shows, thanks to the company’s stake in the Sony-MGM merger.

Already this month, Comcast began offering a new VOD channel that touts 40 Sony/Columbia Pictures titles, including such classics as “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” and “The Bridge on the River Kwai.”

Roberts, who was giving the keynote speech at the 15th annual Smith Barney Citigroup Entertainment and Media confab in Phoenix, also announced that Comcast is finally jumping wholeheartedly into the telephone biz.

Comcast is the last major cable operator to carve out its strategy for residential phone service. Its entry into the market will be closely tracked by Wall Street, which believes the No. 1 U.S. cabler could take away business from the Baby Bell phone companies.

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Widening Net

By the end of the year, Comcast will offer telephone service via the Internet to about half of the homes it services, or 15 million-20 million households.

Company is predicting that number will jump to 40 million households by mid-2006.

Existing cable customers will be charged $39.95 a month for long-distance and unlimited local calls. New phone customers will be charged $54.95.

Comcast expects to have 8 million phone customers within five years; it currently has roughly 1.4 million in limited markets.

Roberts said the “good old days” when a cable company was simply a cable company are gone for good. “We think of ourselves as a new products company,” Roberts told investors at the conference.

Library booked up

Roberts said the breadth of Comcast’s VOD offerings continue to differentiate it from its competitors.

Comcast digital customers have 3,000 program titles from which to choose. The vast majority of those titles are available at no additional cost. Roberts said he expects the list to expand to 10,000 by the end of 2005.

Once regulators bless the Sony-MGM marriage and the deal officially closes, Comcast will begin offering MGM movie and TV titles in addition to Sony’s. Comcast intends to offer 200 Sony and MGM movie titles each month to customers as part of its VOD menu.

Roberts told investors that the company — which made a failed bid last year to buy the Walt Disney Co. — isn’t considering any major acquisitions besides its joint bid with Time Warner for Adelphia cable systems.

He also assured investors that Comcast has completed a multibillion-dollar rebuild of its systems nationwide that will allow the transition from analog to digital. Absent these weighty capitalization costs, Comcast will see 20%-30% growth in its cash flow over the next three to five years.

Comcast shares rose 2.03% in trading Monday to close at $33.23.