Comcast CEO: iPad, tablets give us ability to 'start from scratch' on TV interface

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was decidedly upbeat about tablets such as Apple's iPad and how it can drive demand for the cable giant's Xfinity Web video efforts.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was decidedly upbeat about tablets such as Apple's iPad and how it can drive demand for the cable giant's Xfinity Web video efforts.

Speaking on Comcast's third quarter earnings conference call Wednesday, Roberts and Comcast executives made a bevy of key comments about how new technologies were changing TV consumption. Comcast reported third quarter earnings of $861 million, or 31 cents a share, on revenue of $5.91 billion, up 7 percent from a year ago. At one point, Roberts said:

We are very excited about the iPad. It gives us a chance to start from scratch with a user interface that is using Web technology, not the cable box technology.

Roberts also added:

This week we relaunched Xfinity TV, our authenticated on-demand online service, with a new and I think great marketing campaign. Xfinity TV gives customers online access to 150,000 entertainment choices including movies, TV shows, premium and HD content with a compelling search and discovery platform. All of our digital video customers will receive a customer ID to access Xfinity TV for no extra cost. It's a tremendous value-added service. And before the end of this year we will be launching the Xfinity TV remote app which will work on all the iPhones and iPads and eventually, right after they come out, on the Android-based tablets. This is an entirely new form factor and device for consumers, these tablets, which I think makes the search and discovery and the enjoyment of television that much greater because we have all been looking for how to navigate these 150,000 choices or whatever the consumer actually has. And this, with the touch of a finger, allows you to change channels as well as to search and discovery. I think you will like it when you get one. So as you can see, we have an exciting roadmap for new product introductions and we are delivering more and faster innovation to our customers. All of these enhancements and new features really are starting to bring to life our Xfinity brand and you are going to continue to see and hear many new products from Comcast in the months and years ahead.

Does that mean the set-top box is toast? Comcast executives seemed to be preparing that day, but they also noted that the set-top box will stick around for the foreseeable future.

Comcast operating chief Stephen Burke said:

I think there will be set-top boxes for a long time. But the world is beginning to see technologies that can, in some cases, do away with a set-top box for some of your services. We have digital adapters for many televisions. The world is changing and evolving very rapidly and we want to serve all spaces. That said, the most exciting products we are working on that allow you to have tremendous functionality right on the TV do have set-top boxes involved with them. Some customers will not want all that and will want a different model and so we are working on all across the landscape. Also as more and more moves into the Cloud and into different architecture we have to handle that as well. So it's an interesting time technically and [cable labs] is looking at a lot of these different things.

Bottom line: Comcast sees its video being hosted in the cloud and available on any device, notably tablets. Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable Communications, noted that for Xfinity TV and TV Everywhere "we are at the beginning, not anywhere near the end."