Comcast Sees Opportunity in New Rivalries

The broadband business has turned cutthroat, but Comcast (CMCSA) isn't quaking.

The big Philadelphia-based cable operator told reporters Wednesday morning how it plans to meet the challenge presented by a growing pack of rivals and a shifting landscape. The company said it expects to maintain leadership by offering an expanding list of services and focusing on technical innovation.

Comcast Cable President Steve Burke said the threat to the cable sector from rivals -- such as the regional Bell phone companies -- has been overstated, but he conceded that the competitive balance is changing quickly. Indeed, Burke said Comcast expects that half its television viewing audience within five years will be watching with the help of so-called time-shifting devices such as video-on-demand and personal video recorders.

That transition presents both a challenge and an opportunity, Burke said. "I have yet to see a true killer app for broadband," the executive added, noting that Comcast in the meantime is being agressive in rolling out video-on-demand, PVRs and services using the company's high-speed data network.

On Wednesday, Comcast shares rose 9 cents to $27.94.

Burke's comments, made at a media day presentation in Philadelphia, come as investors are watching the cable and telecom industries especially closely. Many people on Wall Street believe that Comcast and its cable brethren Time Warner (TWX), Cox (COX), Cablevision (CVC) and Charter (CHTR) are poised to steal customers en masse from the Baby Bells, by offering the so-called triple threat of phone, television and high-speed Internet service. But others see the regional Bells -- Verizon (VZ), SBC (SBC) and BellSouth (BLS) -- as poised to take control of the converging communciations business with a coming fiber-to-the-premises network upgrade.

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Much of the talk in the industry lately has centered on cable's challenge to the Bell local phone business via a technology known as voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP. But other battlegrounds lie ahead, particularly in the area of video service. Some observers believe TV could, down the road, be a big draw for the Bells.

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