Comcast Labs launches X1 'Control Panel' with an eye toward connecting content providers with customers

Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) today announced a handful of new features that it is testing on its X1 service, including a "Control Panel" that the company said could eventually allow content providers to append additional information onto their videos. X1 users who opt in to the service can access their Control Panel by pressing the left arrow button on their remote control when they are viewing full-screen video.

In a blog post, Comcast described the Control Panel as "a quick access point for customers to get to their Xfinity service information and frequently used settings without interrupting whatever they're currently watching," the company said. "Right now, the features of Control Panel include Current Time, Weather, MyAccount, Tips and Tricks, and Start Power Saver, which powers off box to conserve energy."

However, the company said it has bigger plans for the Control Panel. During the recent INTX trade show in Chicago, Comcast Cable CTO Tony Werner confirmed that Comcast was in the early stages of introducing a technology that would allow users to obtain additional information from Comcast's content providers.

"We've got one on X1 that we call 'Enhanced Content' ... where you hit the right arrow ... and you can have additional content," Werner said, explaining that the technology would even allow content providers to offer their own commerce services. "I very much want to see that."

He added that: "We want the content folks to want to be on our platform, and so we want to make it as friendly, as easy, and put as many tools in your hands as possible."

A Comcast spokesperson confirmed to FierceCable that Werner's comments described possible future uses of the Control Panel.

Werner's comments, made during a panel session at INTX, were in response to concerns raised by Turner Broadcasting System executive Jeremy Legg during the panel. Legg said cable operators like Comcast need to be more innovative and responsive to content owners. "We're at a place where we have to make the content smarter," he said. Legg added that Turner is working to annotate CNN news stories so that Turner could store that data in the cloud and deliver a series of related videos to CNN news viewers on demand.

Although clearly in its early stages, the Control Panel function in Comcast's X1 paves the way for a wide range of new features and services that content providers could deliver to Comcast customers. For example, content providers could include additional information about their TV programs, such as the names of the actors in the show and the program's director. Content providers could also include additional information such as the products that are being displayed on a TV show and where to buy them. To access such information, Comcast users would click the left button on their remotes while watching TV.

This isn't the first time Comcast has discussed "enhanced" content for its X1 platform. Last year, the company announced a deal with Lionsgate for "premium digital content" for Comcast's Xfinity customers, starting with the studio's "Divergent" movie.

The new Control Panel for Comcast's X1 comes from Comcast Labs. Described as the "advanced technology arm of the company," Comcast Labs is tasked with developing and launching new products and services for the cable company. Other features introduced today to the X1 platform by Comcast Labs include:

  • A Restart Notification for programs, which Comcast said allows users to quickly and easily restart a program from the beginning.
     
  • The Kids Zone, which offers age-appropriate content tailored to children.
     
  • And the Video Description Icon, which is intended for people with vision problems and indicates whether programs have a secondary audio track that describes what's happening during a program.

For more:
- see this Comcast post

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