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Comcast offers fare ‘on demand’

About 2,000 programs available through system

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With its $350 million upgrade nearing completion, Comcast is rolling out a product it says will provide thousands of hours of digital cable television programming "on demand."

On Demand is the closest thing — for now — that Comcast offers to compete with popular digital video recorders like TiVo. The product, which is now available at no extra charge to Comcast digital cable subscribers, makes available "on demand" about 2,000 programs from cable networks and local stations, including NFL football, BYU-TV and the news programs from the local CBS and ABC affiliates. In addition, subscribers to HBO, Showtime, Cinemax, Starz! or the Movie Channel will have on-demand access to movies on the cable networks to which they subscribe.

"This really does change the way people watch TV," said Scott Tenney, Comcast's Utah market vice president of operations. "Even with 250 channels, we occasionally hear from customers that there's nothing on to watch. . . . On Demand changes that, by offering thousands of viewing options. It's TV to fit my schedule."

About half of Comcast's Utah customers have immediate access to the On Demand product. By mid-November, Comcast spokesman Ray Child said about 85 percent of Utah customers should have access. Both the customer accessibility and the product offerings should continue to widen during the "rollout" process, Child said.

No additional equipment is required for Comcast's digital cable subscribers to access On Demand, said Tenney. And there's no additional cost (although Pay Per View movies will remain, well, Pay Per View). Pre-existing parental controls will apply to On Demand programming as well, Tenney said.

With On Demand, viewers can rewind, fast forward and pause the programs and store them for up to 24 hours from the time they are selected. Content will be refreshed at varying rates (daily for news programs, weekly for NFL football channels and semi-annually for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints General Conference broadcasts, for example).

On Demand is not a digital video recorder, said Gary Waterfield, Comcast area vice president for the Utah market.

"TiVo and DVRs record what you ask them to record," Waterfield said. "They're not going to do a lot of the things that our product does. . . . DVR's are great. I like to think they work in conjunction with our product. We'll be talking about DVRs later this year."

Tenney agreed, saying "On Demand is a massive public library. TiVo is like your own personal library. They complement each other."

Comcast will be rolling out its own dual tuner DVR later this year, Waterfield said, though he declined to specify a date.

The company began its network rebuild five years ago. It has since upgraded more than 8,600 miles of the network, installed 2,000 miles of fiber optic cable and added nearly 149 new channels.


E-mail: jnii@desnews.com