Comcast rolls out video app for iPad; eyes live TV

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Comcast Corp plans to soon roll out a feature allowing its customers to watch real-time television shows, whether a crime drama or newscast, on tablet computers such as Apple Inc’s iPad.

Plans call for Comcast to first introduce an application for on-demand video, meaning its subscribers can select from a lineup of TV shows or movies that previously aired. Subscribers can then watch the video on an iPad wherever they are -- at home, a coffee shop or an airport.

That feature will be running in the coming weeks, Comcast announced on Wednesday. It will launch with about 3,000 hours of on-demand content.

Less clear is when Comcast will make available its service for streaming real-time TV shows to Apple’s iPad or tablets powered by Google Inc’s Android system. Comcast said only that the real-time TV service would be available this year.

Comcast and the rest of the cable and telecoms industry have sought to extend the appeal of the existing offerings to customers who, thanks to an explosion in new media devices, have more entertainment choices than ever before.

Indeed, cable companies are trying to create a more flexible TV viewing experience for paying subscribers who are spending more time watching and sharing YouTube videos with their friends online, including on Facebook.

Although pay TV companies insist nobody is dropping their service for lower-cost online alternatives -- like Netflix Inc, -- they are moving protect themselves from losing more customers than they already have.

For Comcast’s customers, a real-time service would allow one family member to watch, say, a news program on the living room TV set even as another family member used an iPad to watch a first-run crime drama in the next room. Subscribers would simply enter a code on Comcast’s Xfinity TV app to gain access.

Unlike Comcast’s on-demand service, the real-time streaming feature. at least initially, would only work within a subscriber’s home. That is because mobile rights for real-time video remain a sticky issue.

Last spring, Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts first showed off a new iPad-based Xfinity app, which allows customers to control home set-top boxes from anywhere. At the time, Roberts hinted that programing could eventually be delivered through the app.

Verizon Communications announced in August it had developed a similar live TV application for iPad.

Reporting by Paul Thomasch, editing by Dave Zimmerman