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Comcast Putting Cable TV on the Net

Comcast took the biggest step yet on Tuesday to bring cable TV shows to the Web - aiming to create a template that eventually could give most cable customers the flexibility to watch movies and shows just about anywhere.

The No. 1 cable operator began to offer people who subscribe to both its TV and Internet services opportunities to watch shows from 27 cable and broadcast channels on their computers on demand, at no additional cost.

Comcast says the majority of its 15.7 million broadband customers will be eligible to see them online, but wouldn't give a more specific number.

"It's a good experience, and it's an experience that's only going to get better with time," says Comcast Interactive Media President Amy Banse. The service, called Fancast Xfinity TV, begins with cable channels including A&E, BET, C-SPAN, Discovery, HBO and TNT, and broadcast networks CBS and Univision.

Broadcast networks currently account for most television shows available on the Internet. They appear on sites including Hulu.com, which is supported by ABC, Fox and NBC.

Cable companies want to be sure that cable shows go only to people who pay to watch them on TV - which troubles open-Internet advocates.

"Comcast wants to be the gatekeeper to the video programming world," said Marvin Ammori, senior adviser at Free Press, an advocacy group that supports universal access to communications. He called the service "an attempt by the industry to impose the cable-TV model onto the Internet."

Yet the concept - widely known as TV Everywhere - has grabbed the industry's imagination as the audience for online video has soared.

Time Warner Cable launched its own test Tuesday in Syracuse, N.Y., where its TV and Internet customers can see programs from TNT and TBS online. The shows can be accessed from the channels' sites, as well as from Time Warner Cable's.

It's a more time-consuming process to deploy but should make it easier for customers to find favorite shows, says spokesman Alex Dudley.

Time Warner's service will work with mobile phones and computers. Comcast is starting with computers: Users download a special player, which can go on up to three machines. People sign in using their e-mail address and password.

Subscribers can watch programs from channels that they receive on TV: Only people who pay for HBO can watch The Sopranos online. Programmers will make other key decisions, including what shows to offer, how quickly they'll appear after they run on TV, and how many ads they'll pack in.

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