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Comcast expands online viewing of broadcast and cable TV shows [Updated]

December 15, 2009 | 12:15 pm

Cable operator Comcast Corp. said today that it would make its experimental Web TV service available for free to millions of the company's subscribers who pay for high-speed Internet access and television.

The newly christened Fancast Xfinity TV service allows subscribers to watch television shows from 27 networks, including such pay cable offerings as HBO, Cinemax and Starz, on their computers. The cable giant is aggressively rolling out the online service, which it tested with 5,000 customers over the summer. It will be available to the majority of Comcast's 15.7 million data subscribers who also receive cable TV service.

"The launch today represents almost a year's worth of work by teams across Comcast," said Comcast Interactive Media President Amy Banse. "We think it's a good experience that's only going to get better over time."

Fancast Xfinity TV is part of a cable industry initiative, called TV Everywhere, that seeks to capitalize on the burgeoning Internet video phenomenon while at the same time protecting its lucrative TV subscription business.

Xfinity TV provides online access to such popular cable shows as HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and TNT's "The Closer." But in order to watch, subscribers must furnish their Comcast e-mail address and password -- information that's used to verify who they are and that they pay to receive the programming. If a subscriber doesn't receive HBO in the home, they won't be able to watch it online either.

Comcast's Web TV offering also incorporates broadcast television shows from ABC, NBC and Fox, which are provided through a distribution agreement with the online video service Hulu. The cable giant's bid to acquire a controlling stake of NBC Universal would also give it a 30% ownership of Hulu, a venture in which Walt Disney Co.'s ABC and News Corp.'s Fox are also partners.

Notably absent from the Xfinity TV offering was the pay cable network Showtime.

"We are having discussions with programmers about making their content available," said Matt Strauss, Comcast's senior vice president of new media. "Without getting into the specifics of those discussions, we'll add more and more content" over time.

[Updated, 2:05 p.m.: An earlier version of the story reported that CBS TV shows would not be offered through the online service. These shows will be available.]

The Fancast service already has 12,000 TV shows. Today's expanded version adds more cable content, plus 900 movies, including "Casino," "The Dark Knight," "Slumdog Millionaire" and "Wall-E." 

-- Dawn C. Chmielewski