Skype Video-Calling Will Require Comcast Customers to Think Different About TV

A new partnership between Comcast and Skype will let Comcast subscribers place video calls through their television sets.

The new service will require some setup — customers will need to install Comcast-provided equipment including an adapter box, video camera, and special remote with a QWERTY keyboard that connects to the service. Using this remote, customers will be able to access Skype’s instant messaging feature as well.

As a bonus, the new service will integrate with Comcast’s Xfinity mobile app, allowing users to switch from Skype functionality to Xfinity.

Trials for the service are planned for the coming months, and further details about how it will work will be revealed by year end.

Comcast and Skype did not respond to the E-Commerce Times’ requests to comment for this story.

The Next Step

Consumer video calling certainly has strong potential, as illustrated by Skype’s popularity. However, how to meld it with cable television services and the big screen is still unclear. Some vendors have already taken a stab at it — e.g., Cisco, with its Umi product — but so far their efforts have fallen flat.

Presumably Comcast and Skype will address some of the weaknesses in the Cisco offering by setting a lower price point and generating greater awareness of the offering.

“Skype has always had a consumer focus, resulting in both brand recognition and a sizeable user base, and Comcast’s consumer audience is a perfect fit,” M5 Networks Senior Vice President of Product Marketing Jeff Valentine told the E-Commerce Times. “If Comcast were to offer hardware and installation assistance, this could make the offering very attractive for consumers.”

Challenges in Store

Even the combined might of Comcast and Skype might not overcome the challenges in this particular business case, Azita Arvani of the Arvani Group told the E-Commerce Times.

For starters, it is questionable whether people lounging around watching TV would be that interested in video calling, she said, at least in the numbers necessary to call the service a success.

“There may be some folks that would find this service useful — especially for holidays and special occasions,” Arvani speculated.

The question is whether enough people view their television as an interactive device, as opposed to the lounge magnet that it is now.

“TV viewers reportedly bought Snuggie — a blanket with sleeves — to the tune of 25 million units, more than 23 million Comcast subscribers,” noted Arvani.

It is doubtful people encased in their Snuggies are inclined to video conference, she said.

Also, there are other ways of conducting video calls that are easier than the setup Comcast and Skype have in mind, Arvani pointed out, with numerous applications available for smartphones, tablets, laptops and desktops.

Even if the companies keep the cost of their offering low, it will still have to cover the required hardware and services, she said, which means it will be out of reach for many consumers.

“Overall, it is an interesting experiment,” concluded Arvani, “but I won’t hold my breath for a runaway hit.”

The TV God

In response to the critics and skeptics, M5’s Valentine pointed to television’s universality as a possible tipping factor.

“Skype on a TV is valuable for the same reasons universal remote controls are valuable: less clicks matter,” he said.

Also, people might be more inclined to use a service via a medium with which they’re more comfortable. Despite the plethora of smartphones and other connected devices, TV is still a mainstay entertainment source, noted Valentine, citing Nielsen’s report that overall TV viewership is up 22 percent over last year.

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