CEO Brian Roberts sees a bright future for Comcast as a provider of on-demand content.
At the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco on Tuesday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts denied panel moderator John Battelle's assertion that Internet users are eager to move to cut the pricey cable cord and move to a more affordable Internet on-demand model.
"So far, the data does not suggest that people en masse want to do that," Roberts said.
That doesn't mean people won't want to supplement their experience with products like Apple TV or the Sling media player, he said.
"One of the things we want to do at Comcast is have a philosophical mind-shift to embrace that world," said Roberts.
Roberts pointed to Comcast's Fancast site, now in beta testing, as a way that Comcast can make its content business work on the Internet. "I think video over the net is friend, not foe," he said.
Kevin Johnson, CEO of Juniper Networks, offered a slightly different view later in the afternoon. He claimed that surging Internet usage -- video in particular -- without corresponding subscriber growth would break the economic model of the Internet by 2015.
Roberts did his best to position Comcast as a part of the Internet community rather than an Internet foe. But many summit attendees sounded as if they weren't entirely convinced, despite a parade of questioners from the audience gushing about the joys of being a Comcast customer.
Comcast, as the largest residential ISP in the country, hasn't been a supporter of net neutrality regulation, making it effectively "the enemy" as far as Internet companies like Google are concerned. Rather than courting controversy, Roberts suggested that net neutrality is too hazy a concept to comment on, saying that the contentious term means different things to different people.
That said, he suggested net neutrality regulation isn't necessary. "The idea that we're not going to have an open Internet is just not realistic," he said.
At the same time, Roberts's endorsement of the strategic value of control over data delivery -- "You bet on having the best pipe" -- suggests that the concerns voiced by net neutrality supporters may not be entirely misplaced. Internet companies back net neutrality in order to not be at the mercy of the owners of Internet pipes, so to speak.
Asked whether Comcast is afraid of Apple, Roberts tactfully expressed his admiration of Apple's accomplishments. He then noted that Comcast has served over 13 million shows on-demand, far more content than Apple has delivered over iTunes.
"Right now, I think we have the best on-demand of any provider out there," he said.
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