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How Comcast Could Compete with Google and Facebook

As big as Comcast will become if it is allowed to buy Time Warner Cable, it still won’t have the national scale that digital competitors like Facebook, Google and Netflix have—and that Comcast chief Brian Roberts has hinted he would like.

But one way for Comcast to extend its reach further in the U.S., by licensing to other cable operators the X1 technology that powers its new set-top boxes, has gone nowhere since Comcast said it was open to the idea about a year ago. X1 is also used to deliver video to devices like phones and tablets.

While the cable operator hasn’t been pursuing the licensing concept actively since striking the TWC deal in February, it also faces resistance to the idea from some in the industry, executives say. Mr. Roberts indicated at an event with reporters in San Francisco last week that Comcast may consider the idea in the future.

Overcoming industry resistance to the concept is important if Comcast is to have any hope of competing on a more level playing field with with Silicon Valley in the battle to distribute digital content. Companies like Facebook and Google have many advantages over traditional media firms, aside from their lack of geographic boundaries, including access to detailed data about consumer preferences. Some like Google and Apple—whom Comcast has been in on-again, off-again talks with over a distribution agreement—have the benefit of that data across many different devices through Android and iOS.

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In an interview with The Information, TiVo Chief Executive Tom Rogers argues that “two or three” different platforms will emerge in the TV industry as choices for pay TV operators. TiVo, he said, is now a “primary third-party provider of advanced technology” to pay TV firms.

—Jessica E. Lessin and Amir Efrati contributed to this article.

Karan Lodha commented on this article.
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Another cable executive said that operators are wary of striking a deal with Comcast that would make them reliant on the industry giant for technology