Comcast Partners with Skype

In a joint announcement last week, Comcast and Skype unveiled plans to provide video chat service to Xfinity customers. By adding an adapter box to their set-top box and a “high-quality” video camera, subscribers will be able to send or receive instant messages or video calls to any Skype user worldwide, including smart phones, tablets, and personal computers, as well as other Comcast subscribers who are equipped for Skype calls. The press release describes it as “HD video calling” though it does not provide specific details on resolution.

The service will support picture-in-picture, so you can have your video call in a small window on your television screen, or press a button to swap it so the Skype window is full screen and the program that you’re watching is in the small window. (I can see how investment types might find this useful as an inexpensive way to videoconference while keeping a financial news station open in the window.)

The service will roll out in Seattle and Boston first, with Detroit, Indianapolis, Miami, Atlanta, Augusta, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Harrisburg, PA following almost immediately after. Existing Xfinity triple-play customers can get a free three-month trial. According to the Comcast website, the service will cost $9.99 a month after the initial promotional period.

I’ve said all along that Skype in the living room has been a missed opportunity for the television makers. I believe that should have been advertising the pants off this feature ever since they started incorporating support for it in their HDTVs. Making it easy for grandparents to see and interact with young grandchildren is a hands-down winner, and Skype is a staple for people of all ages who want to stay in touch with distant family and friends. I think the $10 a month seems a bit steep, even when you figure in the rental of an adapter box, camera, and the new remote control. Still, given the high penetration rate of broadband connections in the home, I expect that there’s a large market for the service even at this rate. Who knows? Maybe this feature could be a competitive advantage that even might drive new customers to sign up with Comcast.