November 20, 2003 2:11 PM PST

Now showing on Comcast: Streaming video

Cable giant Comcast has bulked up its home page with a new streaming video player, as part of its ongoing effort to become a Web portal for broadband users.

The video player, called "The Fan," uses Macromedia's Flash software to deliver high-bandwidth content to Comcast's broadband subscribers, the company announced Thursday. Customers can launch the player on Comcast.net, the cable giant's consumer home page, which is being refurbished as a high-speed Web portal for its subscribers.

The choice of using Macromedia software came at the expense of more popular playback software such as Microsoft's Windows Media Player, RealNetworks' RealOne and Apple Computer's QuickTime. A Comcast executive said the company chose Macromedia for its simplicity.

"We wanted the experience to be as simple as a remote control," said Eric Elia, Comcast's director of portal development. "The problem with Windows Media, RealNetworks and QuickTime is the confusing choice of bit rates and codecs. User tests showed a negative reaction to the players."

The Fan loads on Comcast.net as a circular pop-up that displays a daisy wheel of video clips such as movie previews and news briefs. The content comes from a limited pool of providers including Atom Films, E!, G4, IFC, TechTV and Planeta Networks.

Comcast boasts the largest number of broadband customers, with 4.8 million subscribers as of Sept. 30. The company recently doubled its maximum download speed as part of an industrywide effort to battle price cuts brought on by rival DSL (digital subscriber line) services from the Baby Bells.

Comcast also added to its customer home page a companion toolbar, dubbed "The Assistant," that offers quick-access information such as weather reports, sports scores, stock quotes and daily horoscopes. Like The Fan, The Assistant is encoded in Flash software.

In addition, Comcast.net is offering a content channel about relationships that will feature information and services from wedding site The Knot and online personals site Match.com.

 

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