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Everyone seems to be laughing at cable operators these days, but maybe it will be market leader Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA ) that laughs last.
PC World interviewed Comcast executive Karin Gilford, who watches over the cable giant's Fancast.com website. She details how the site will begin offering cable subscribers "on demand" access to the channels they currently pay for, online, at no additional cost.
Let that sink in for a while. Many cable and satellite television companies are smarting these days. DISH Network (Nasdaq: DISH ) lost more subscribers than it gained last year.
"We are starting to see the beginnings of core cutting where people -- typically young people -- are saying, 'All I need is broadband,'" Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC ) CEO Glenn Britt told investors during its fourth-quarter conference call in February.
Cable and satellite companies are losing out on customers who realize that they don't need to pay hefty bills for TV service anymore. As long as they have an online connection, they can just stream primetime shows. Premium movie channels? Who needs that, when you have Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX ) pumping out streams of more than 10,000 of its catalog titles at no additional charge for existing members?
Digital delivery seemed ludicrous a couple of years ago, since rallying the family around the computer monitor was a joke. However, now that DVRs, video-game consoles, Blu-ray players, and standalone set-top boxes help zap content into home theaters, it's a whole new ballgame.
And Comcast is throwing some serious heat in the bullpen.
Fancast has been around for more than a year, but it hasn't become a video-sharing hub like Hulu or YouTube. That will change, once it evolves into an "on demand" hotbed for Comcast's 24 million subscribers later this year.
And this trend could very well disrupt the disruptors. Will you still need your Slingbox, if you can just log in to your Fancast account and stream your cable channels? Will you have time -- or a need -- for Netflix or Blockbuster (NYSE: BBI ) , when Comcast is able to exponentially multiply its available content?
Since the current plan is to roll out the service at no additional cost, it finds Comcast following Netflix in offering up a loyalty-nurturing feature that should cement its subscribers in place. That makes digital premium video e-tailers such as Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) and Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) less relevant. When consumers are cutting back wherever they can, it makes a Comcast subscription that much more valuable.
This will be huge for Comcast, and for the industry itself. Oh, if only the newspaper companies had thought of it first.
Some items with immediate availability on your Netflix reading queue: