Cable operator Comcast has announced the appointment of the former chief executive of Gemstar as the head of its programme division.

Jeff Shell, who was widely tipped to join Comcast after resigning from Gemstar, will become president of Comcast Programming. He will be responsible for a range of content interests, including the E! Entertainment Network and Style Network, together with other planned programming developments.

Before joining Gemstar, Shell held a number of positions within News Corporation, including president of the FOX Cable Networks Group.

“Content has become an increasingly important part of our business over the past few years, and we expect to continue to expand aggressively in this area,” said Steve Burke, Comcast’s chief operating officer.

The largest provider of cable and broadband services in the United States, Comcast has reported a 10 per cent rise in quarterly net profit, led by the provision of broadband internet services. It now has 7 million high-speed data customers, and 21.5 million video subscribers, around 40% of whom receive digital services. Although it has stemmed recent loses of video customers, Comcast expects basic video customer growth to remain flat.

The cable company is currently in a joint bid with Tim Warner to acquire bankrupt cable operator Adelphia Communications.

Cable companies are facing increasing competition from satellite television operators, but have the opportunity to provide broadband data and video-on-demand services.

Comcast reports increased demand for on-demand services. In 2004 customers order over half a billion on demand programmes, and Comcast expects that to rise to over a billion in 2005.

The company says it will be able to dynamically insert targeted advertising into its video-on-demand services within a few years.

“This is a big opportunity and something we are uniquely able to do,” said Steve Burke, adding that targeting advertising revenues “could be a very nice business” in the near future.

The next area of growth is expected to be the roll-out of telephone services to digital customers.

“As we begin to integrate this new service with Comcast’s video and high-speed internet services, our goal is to build a unique experience for our customers,” said chairman and chief executive Brian Roberts.