Comcast to offer up Skype box for video calls


Comcast is announcing 6/14 plans to bring Skype calls to TV sets later this year. Subscribers will be able to rent a box kit from Comcast that includes a webcam and an adapter that plugs into the TV. A new cable box remote will include a keyboard on the back, for typing chat messages. Subscribers will get notifications of incoming calls on their TVs and will be able to answer calls with full-screen video or in a window while watching TV.

Comcast plans to start trials of the system in the next few months. It has 17.4 million Internet subscribers. The cable giant hasn’t yet figured out what to charge for the kit, according to an AP story. Financial terms of the deal are not yet known.

Many high-end TVs already come with the ability to conduct Skype calls. Buyers usually have to add a webcam for $150, but neither the TV maker nor Skype charge a monthly fee.

Comcast’s Skype adapter won’t work with Skype services that let users call phone numbers, or receive calls to a phone number. Instead, Comcast plans to bundle a limited version of Skype’s offerings with its own phone service so subscribers can place and receive phone calls through the TV set, said the AP story.

Luxembourg-based Skype has agreed to be bought by Microsoft for $8.5 billion in a deal expected to close by the end of 2011.

RBR-TVBR observation: Cisco Systems launched a home videoconferencing device and service last year, but had to cut the $599 price and $24.95 monthly fee, apparently because of weak demand. The difference here is Comcast will promote the heck out of Skype across its own unsold local spot inventory and across NBCU properties, which it owns. It will get the consumers’ attention, that’s for sure. Pricing may be another thing.