Comcast (CMCSA) has announced that it will soon offer Skype video calls on the TVs of its cable customers. In their joint announcement, the companies said they “have entered into a strategic partnership that will enable Comcast customers to communicate with family and friends through HD video calling on their television. They will soon be able to make and receive Skype video calls from their television, whether their friends and family use Skype on their home TVs, PCs, compatible smartphones or tablets.” The firms did not reveal prices for the service.
The product will allow people to import contacts from other sources, among them Facebook and Gmail. To use the service, Comcast customers will need a video camera, an adapter box, and special remote control.
The hurdles to the service are many. The first is that there’s no proof that people have any interest in using Skype on their televisions when they can already use it on mobile devices and PCs. The partnership has the same potential problem that producers of video content and apps have: How many places are customers willing to use a given service? On two devices, three, or four?
Another barrier to entry will be the price. Cable companies already collect fees for TV, broadband, and VoIP, and there is no assurance the consumers will be willing to add another service to an already service-rich cable connection. Comcast has elected to avoid the price issue for now, but bundled cable packages can cost well over $100 a month when they include cable, broadband, VoIP, and premium content channels. Will someone who pays $150 for their cable bill be interested in adding another $20 or $30 for a video phone on their TV?
Finally, Comcast customers may not want to add yet another new set of hardware to a home electronics system that may include a plasma TV, five speakers, a PC, a phone (which already may be video-enabled), and a collection of remote controls. THis new offering faces a decades-old question: How many services can customers afford — or use?