Well, it looks like Comcast is really serious about this Internet stuff. Just over a year after turning heads with its purchase of online movie ticket seller Fandango.com, the Comcast-owned site today announced that it will purchase Movies.com from Disney—a move that puts Comcast firmly atop the online movie ticketing heap. Comcast remains primarily an MSO with a substantial slate of programming assets. But the addition of Movies.com to its already impressive online portfolio (which includes its Fancast video portal, horror hub FearNet.com and user-generated content site Ziddio.com) creates a somewhat unique situation for Comcast. Despite the fact that content firms like News Corp, Viacom and NBCU hold far more valuable content assets than Comcast, they don’t really control distribution. When it comes to the Internet, NBCU and News Corp have partnered with the Hulu.com venture while Viacom continues to struggle with a cogent strategy (other than its ongoing lawsuit against Google’s YouTube). And unlike, News Corp., which uses its MySpace.com social networking site to promote its movies and TV shows, Viacom has yet to acquire a similar asset. But then again, no one owns the Internet. Only Comcast and Time Warner Inc (through its majority ownership of separately traded Time Warner Cable) share the distinction of holding both cable content and distribution power—although Liberty Media’s ownership of DirecTV puts that satcaster in a lesser but similar position. So why is Comcast so interested in the seemingly tangential business of booking movie theater tickets? Could this perhaps have something to do with the rapidly closing windows between theatrical and VOD release dates? After all, Comcast Cable CEO Steve Burke has often pondered the benefits of same-day releases of movies in theaters and on VOD. Comcast could use that booking infrastructure to serve both markets, steering consumers not only to movie theaters but also right back to their VOD navigation screens in their living rooms. Combine all of this with sites like Ziddio.com and Fancast—with the ability to bounce content seamlessly between the computer and the TV set, perhaps using tru2way-enabled devices—and the future starts to get pretty interesting. We’ll be watching.
It’s in 3-D, Dude!
First, black-and-white TV became color. Then cable took the country by storm, expanding the channel selection from 3 or 4 general-interest broadcast stations to well over 100 networks offering anything and everything you could ever imagine. These days, we’re living through the HD transition. Could 3DTV be the next stage in our boobtubeonian evolution—one that will someday biologically fuse our bodies into the fabric of our Barcaloungers? Well, not exactly. But judging from a study announced today by Nielsen, content providers may want to brace themselves for “strong consumer appetite” for 3-D fare based on its analysis of consumer trends at theaters showing 3-D films. Nielsen PreView’s 3-D study analyzed over 4,000 theaters in the United States and found that theaters with at least one screen exhibiting in 3-D had a 65% increase in box office sales compared to their 2-D counterparts. Furthermore, theatres that chose to exhibit in 3-D on more than one screen saw their sales climb yet even higher to 100% versus what was expected. Does this mean that a similar thirst for 3-D will eventually hit the same consumers that in recent years have demanded theater-like picture and sound at home? Well, perhaps, but such a shift doesn’t seem imminent. Consider that in another recent Nielsen survey, 48% of consumers were unaware that their movie choices were even available in 3-D at the theaters. But Nielsen predicted that this could quickly change if the movie industry starts to heavily market 3-D fare. Also consider that Mitsubishi and Philips turned a lot of heads at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas earlier this year with the introduction of stereoscopic TVs that display 3-D pictures… without those annoying glasses! Could it only be a matter of time before consumers demand 3-D in the home? And if so, what does this mean for content owners? Cable networks are already changing the way they shoot everything from big-budget original dramas to reality shows to accommodate consumers’ new expectations for HD-quality video. Could another shift be only a few years away? At this stage, it’s unclear whether the first 3-D sets will become a hit with consumers… but if 3-D makes a resurgence in theaters, we can only imagine the potential residual effect on TV home viewing.