With YouTube-streaming now accounting for 4% of the traffic on its broadband pipes, Comcast is beefing up its own user-generated Web/VOD channel, Ziddio, with original content from members of Facebook.com.
Starting in late March, members of the Facebook social online network—think of it as MySpace’s older sibling, like VH1 to MTV—and Ziddio (both sites are free and ad-supported) can enter contests to create, upload and rate videos to be included in an original series, Facebook Diaries, a 10-part half-hour series that will be produced by Emmy-award winning producer R.J. Cutler’s company.
The top videos will be featured on Facebook and Ziddio’s websites and on Comcast On Demand, giving TV and online exposure for the best user-generated videos from any source, including cell phones, PDAs, webcams and video cameras.
Besides luring more traffic to Ziddio, which soft-launched in November, the deal also marks a first for Facebook, the 2nd most popular social network after MySpace (and the 7th most popular site in the U.S., boasting more than 16 million users), which doesn’t permit video uploading, only linking, at present.
Liz Schimel, SVP of entertainment for Ziddio owner Comcast Interactive Media, says the channel is already attracting “in the millions of monthly views.” Partnering with Facebook to expand its content and audience makes sense on a number of levels, she adds.
“Facebook is a very hot brand and they haven’t partnered with many people to date,” Schimel notes. “They attract an 18-24 year-old audience, so it starts in the teen demo, is super strong in college and migrates upwards from there. These are communities of people who actually know each other, so it’s the purest essence of a fantastic social network.”
Facebook COO Owen Van Natta told Bambi Francisco for her MarketWatch blog that the Comcast/Ziddio deal was appealing to his company because of Comcast’s "multi-channel distribution" and its 12 million VOD households.
Comcast is looking at other ways of leveraging user-generated content across the companies’ expanding stable of content, from its websites to On Demand to Comcast.net and (soon) wireless.
Schimel says to watch for more cross-platform content sharing between its broadband properties—besides Ziddio, it owns FEARnet, a horror-themed portal that went live on Halloween and GameInvasion.net, which launched in December—and its VOD-incubated channels such as Dating on Demand, which features user-created dating videos from its local markets.
“We’re working really closely across the company in tying in the user-generated components, such as what Comcast.net already has,” she says. “You’ll continue to see us rolling out features and sites, in particular [around] video.”
Comcast president and CEO Brian Roberts emphasized the importance of Web video on the company’s Feb. 1st earnings call to analysts.
“We continue to believe that streaming video over the Internet is a great driver of the growth of high-speed Internet,” Roberts commented on the 4th quarter 2006 call.
“I don’t think there’s any coincidence that we had our strongest year in high-speed Internet and the growth of video on the Internet. People are attracted to it more, it’s easier, it’s fun, and the kind of things that people are doing online continue to be the YouTubes of the world, I think I saw a statistic that 4% of all the bits going across high-speed Internet lines at Comcast is YouTube. We don’t view that as a bad thing. We view that as a great thing in terms of the core video business versus a differentiated broadband business.
“…We’re working with the content companies to find ways to enhance the already television experience. We obviously did that successfully with on demand. How can we do the same? You see folks like ESPN and others having an enhancement to their site but not necessarily a replacement of the television experience as some have thought might happen or might be a threat. We don’t see that. I don’t think they see that."
Roberts also said that Schimel’s unit, which is headed by CIM president Amy Banse, has a busy year ahead.
"You’re going to see and hear more from [Comcast Interactive Media] in 2007," he said. "The whole focus is video-centric and also, on an integrated product experience, what we call cross-platform where you’ll look to Comcast, just as it worked with triple play, you’ll look to Comcast to bring you [an] integrated video experience that is working on all devices."
"Nobody today connects to as many televisions as we do," he added. "We think that’s a great asset, and bringing that back to your PC, back to your wireless devices, back throughout your home network, and that’s part of what we’re working on, as you also layer in communications services and you have that experienced bundle. That is not yet happening…and we think we have as good a chance to succeed in that as anyone out there and we are working hard at it.”