Comcast's busy week puts its multi-play telecom strategy on display

Cable TV company Comcast is at a pivotal point in its evolution as a multi-play telecom service provider. Its status as a telecom giant that should be mentioned in the same sentence as AT&T and Verizon Communications--call them the new big three carriers--has never been on more apparent display than this week:

- Yesterday, Comcast reported fourth quarter 2009 earnings, touting yet another quarter of solid growth ending a strong 2009. Comcast added 243,000 telephony customers and 247,000 high-speed Internet customers during the last quarter. The telephony figure was something of a disappointment, though perhaps only because we had become used to quarters in which Comcast added at least twice that number of voice accounts. Comcast now has 7.6 million telephony customers, and both AT&T and Verizon are heading quickly downward in that category as Comcast continues to inch upward.

- Comcast and NBC Universal are in front of Congressional committees today in Washington, D.C., taking the first steps to get approval for their programming joint venture that would put Comcast in control of vast content resources. Critics of the deal have been making a lot of noise early on and the regulatory give-and-take will take months, but with old media ownership regulations lifted, it's likely the deal will move forward mostly intact.

- Comcast also is shoring up its resources in what has been referred to as an area of weakness in the past. The company announced this week it will acquire business telecom services provider New Global Telecom. This effort comes after the cable firm's acquisition of Cimco, and with these two deals, Comcast is making it harder for observers to criticize its readiness in the business communications segment. Cox Communications is still leading the cable TV company invasion in this segment, but Comcast is coming on strong.

- Next week, Comcast will begin its transition to a new services brand, Xfinity. Some say it's an attempt by Comcast to distance itself from a legacy of poor cable TV customer service. You could also argue that it's a risky and expensive move at a time after Comcast already has made adequate strides in new service areas under its existing brand name. Yet, it mimics what AT&T and Verizon did with their respective brands, U-verse and FiOS, and acknowledges that the TV-broadband Internet-telephony triumvirate has become a new segment unto its own, and that it is the collective service sector by which future telecom success will be measured.

Comcast's busy week provides it with a mountain of publicity. Some of that publicity may be negative, of course, but a good deal of it will end up showcasing how powerful and far-reaching this multi-play telecom service provider has become.

-Dan

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