Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Amazon's Poaching Comcast's Talent

Philadelphians have a love-hate relationship with Comcast. Like most cable customers, we depend on our service as we do any utility. Whether it's our cell phone service, cable internet, or our electricity, when it does down, we bitch. It's the end of the world. 

But we're also obligated to love our homegrown Comcast because our economy relies on it. Frustrating as it may be at times, we want them to win. 

A lot has been said about Comcast's intentions for its new Comcast Innovation and Technology Center, its vertical information and technology campus allegedly intended to give a few behemoths in the Silicon Valley a run for their money. 

But despite speculation in the Wired-centric blogosphere, Comcast itself has been relatively quiet about its intentions. How does a telecom giant intend to enter the IT market? 

For now, no one seems to know. But it wouldn't be unheard-of for a massive company to expand into new markets. Google is branching out into Comcast's territory with Google Fiber, and is even tiptoeing into the automotive industry with its conceptual driverless car. 

But software companies are a bit of an anomaly in the world of Wall Street. Companies like Google, Apple, even Microsoft and IBM, don't exclusively think in terms of immediate profit. Companies reared from a geek mentality invest heavily in conceptual research and development never intended to go anywhere.

They take risks, sometimes misguided. Google was banking on Glass being more than a joke. While it's a groundbreaking piece of technology, they underestimated the vanity of a world beyond the Silicon Valley, one in which wearable technology simply can't be fashionable.

Apple took similar risks with its Watch. Although more successful than Google Glass, and seemingly more thought out, it appears to be finding a niche market nowhere near as robust as its iPhones and iPads. 

What is unheard-of in Comcast's realm - and thus Philadelphia's - is that a profit-driven corporate entity unversed in conceptual technologies - even geek-speak- is trying to nudge its way into that world. 

As it stands, Comcast's relationship with NBC-Universal is only vaguely integrated. NBC-Universal is a Comcast brand in stock-only, yet almost entirely autonomous. Comcast is parading NBC-Universal around in much the same way that AOL touted its TimeWarner acquisition. But in both case, a Wall Street alfa is touting a household brand to prove its worth. 

While NBC-Universal can't divorce itself in the same way that TimeWarner split from AOL, if Comcast flounders in the face if new technology, NBC-Universal will prove itself the alfa of the pair. 

For now, Comcast has proven that it can compete with innovative streaming companies on a very high level. Xfinity Stream was recently released as either a rival or companion to numerous streaming content providers. 

Whether this says anything about Comcast's abilities as an innovator, it at least shows that it recognizes an immediate market for those who've opted out of cable. 

But technology can change in the blink of an eye. And whether its mobile content provision of something we haven't seen yet, something else will come along. If Comcast doesn't get out in front of that, or innovate that technology themselves, they're reduced to being what they are with Xfinity Stream: a follower.

Whatever Comcast has in store, whether it has a plan for the IT market or it's still researching its options, others have taken note. And they've taken note from a prominent place: Seattle. Synonymous with technology and the ability to offer absolutely everything with the click of a button, Amazon will be at the Loews Hotel in Philadelphia for a three day event specifically designed to poach Comcast's tech-talent. 

If you ever thought Comcast wasn't paying attention, they'll be there doing exactly the same thing. 

If you think it's a bad sign for Philadelphia's information technology market, don't. In fact, it's just the opposite. In the past year, Tesla has been poaching Apple's talent. Why? Because Tesla is innovative, and wants a piece of Apple's equally innovative talent pool.

The fact that Amazon is targeting Comcast's talent - likely because they're both streaming content - says a lot about Comcast's relevance in the streaming content marketplace. Amazon Prime has grown in popularity on par with Netflix and Hulu. In fact, it's the third best way to watch television without a cable provider. Amazon - a tech savvy West Coast company - wouldn't be targeting Comcast if Philadelphia wasn't a threat. 

What Comcast decides to do with this unofficial clout remains to be seen. But Amazon's career fair at the Loews Hotel will relay a message back to the West Coast that the job market is shifting, and that there are geeks Back East that mean business. 

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