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Summary:

Comcast added on-demand video content to its iPad app today, enabling users to watch shows from HBO and other networks on the tablet device. But while the video quality is good, the content selection is only so-so — meaning it’s not something I’d subscribe to use.

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Comcast added the ability to watch on-demand video streams to its iPad app Wednesday, extending the availability of its TV Everywhere content to a new device. Early reviews of the app were generally favorable, so I decided to check it out for myself.

Let’s get one thing out of the way: I’m not a cable subscriber right now. In fact, I don’t even own a TV, watch get most of my streaming content either on my laptop or on my iPad. But my parents subscribe to Comcast, paying upwards of $180 a month for phone, broadband, digital TV, the premium movie package and one DVR. Back when Comcast first rolled out its TV Everywhere service, I asked for my family to create an account for me so that I could test it out (and I was a bit underwhelmed).

Frankly, over the last several months I’ve forgotten about my TV Everywhere access, catching up on shows that I can get through Netflix or even Hulu Plus instead. And while I had downloaded the Xfinity TV app when it first came out, just to see how it worked, I didn’t really do much with it. Controlling my family’s DVR recordings or navigating their local programming guide didn’t seem terribly appealing to me. But now, thanks to my familial connection, I can take advantage of streaming video that Comcast just rolled out on the iPad app.

My first impression is that the app is extremely cool for the content that’s available on it now. I haven’t watched HBO in ages, but the entire first season of Boardwalk Empire is available on the app now, so I’m looking forward to catching up on Steve Buscemi’s hot new show. Movies like The Book of Eli and The Blind Side — which are in HBO’s pay TV window right now — are also available through the app.

But while HBO content is certainly a highlight, the overall content selection is a bit spotty. Most notably, as BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield points out, TV shows from Turner channels TNT and TBS have varying amounts of content available. Some shows — like TNT’s Men of a Certain Age — have 6 episodes available, while others — like TBS’s Lopez Tonight — have just three episodes available.

There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how many episodes from what season of a show make it to the app. That’s confusing and could be problematic for consumers, who might want to use the iPad app to catch up on older episodes of certain shows. The good news is that more content should be coming online soon, as Turner just did a deal with Comcast to bring online more shows from TNT, TBS, CNN, HLN, truTV, Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Live video streams will also be coming to the Comcast iPad app soon as well, enabling viewers to watch linear TV from the tablet device — as long as they’re at home and connected to their home network.

When stacked up against other video apps, the Comcast Xfinity TV app does pretty well: It’s pretty fast and videos stream in very high quality for the device. Once you get over the fact that you won’t have the ability to watch full seasons of most shows, it works well as a time-wasting app for watching some library cable content.

While I generally enjoy the Comcast iPad app, I’m still skeptical that it will work as a defensive measure against users who might choose not to pay for cable and find their content elsewhere. For big-time cable users, it will provide one more screen from which they’ll be able to access some of their favorite content — particularly if they’re HBO fans. But I wouldn’t necessarily sign up for Comcast if I didn’t already subscribe just to get access to the app.

The bottom line is that for me, “free” access to HBO content is pretty cool. But I probably wouldn’t pay $150 a month for it.

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  1. “There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to how many episodes from what season of a show make it to the app.”

    This is usually controlled by the studios, not the broadcaster.

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    1. I’d guess that the limited content is Comcast’s way to contain video storage costs — at least until they’re able to determine if there’s adequate demand from cable subscribers.

      Meaning, just as Ryan rightly questions the appeal to attract potential new subscribers, this offering is likely targeted at their current subscribers (as a customer retention offering).

      However, if it doesn’t gain traction with their customer base, then Comcast can simply dismantle this experiment without a big impact on their bottom line.

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  2. HBO has its own App. It sounds like Comcast just piggybacked on it. The larger question is, when does HBO go it alone.

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    1. @CSBeer – I’ve written about this in the past. Seems like HBO is in no rush to go straight to consumer, though. Jeff Bewkes says it can, but that it prefers to distribute through relationships with distributors (cable companies).

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      1. Do you mean when does HBO offer a straight to consumer online package ? I’m going to guess never. The MSOs would scream bloody murder. HBO could never make up the loss in retrans fees.

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  3. [...] already come to market or will soon roll out mobile and TV apps of their own. Comcast has already rolled out its Xfinity TV app, with access to on-demand content from a number of cable networks. Meanwhile, Time Warner Cable and [...]

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  4. [...] was first to market with an iPad app that allows its subscribers to access on-demand video from its network partners (including HBO). But recently, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision both [...]

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  5. [...] are creating their own services for the device.Comcast was first to market with an iPad app that allows its subscribers to access on-demand video from its network partners (including HBO). But recently, Time Warner Cable and Cablevision both [...]

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