Blog Post

Hands On with Comcast’s Xfinity: TV Everywhere That’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be

After weeks of anticipation, I finally got a chance to go hands-on with Comcast’s (s CMCSA) Fancast Xfinity TV service while visiting family that subscribe to Comcast’s cable and broadband service. While the cable company should get points for launching the first TV Everywhere deployment in the U.S., my early experience has not been very positive. Due to significant issues with the authentication process and actual content library, I have to say that I’m more than a little disappointed by the service, especially after months of hype by Comcast and content partners like Time Warner (s TWX).

Authentication

Let’s start with Comcast’s authentication process, which is the biggest stumbling block for Xfinity. To authenticate with the service, you have to download and install on your computer a client application that phones home to Comcast to confirm that you’re a subscriber and figure out what content you have access to. Each Comcast account can add up to three devices that can access Xfinity content, and each one has to have the Comcast Access client installed. In theory, this should be a seamless process, but in practice it involves a number of steps that could keep subscribers from being able to use the service.

Would you like to install Comcast Access... again?

What could go wrong? In my case, it seems like everything did. First, I was unable to access any content because the account set up for me was “restricted.” (Thanks, Mom.) Once I was able to get an authorized account, I had to go through the process of reinstalling everything. Except, the new installation didn’t seem to want to gel with the old authentication information. After about 45 minutes on the phone with a Comcast customer service rep, who was clearly not trained on how to fix problems with the new TV Everywhere service, I found a solution: clear my cookies, delete all instances of the Comcast Access application, restart my browser, and reinstall.

Great! Now I can sign in and watch True Blood. There was only one problem: Once I closed the Comcast Access application, Xfinity no longer believed I was a subscriber and asked me to download and install the client all over again. Simply restarting the Comcast Access app wouldn’t do it — believe me, I tried. Nope, every time I wanted to use the Xfinity service, I had to clear my cookies, delete the app, restart and reinstall. Not exactly a painless user experience. And not one I’d be willing to go through again, if I didn’t have a review to write.

Content Selection

Once you’re on the site, you’re faced with actually finding the content that you want to watch. The good news is that there’s plenty to choose from; Comcast boasts more than 12,000 video assets in the entire Fancast Xfinity TV library. The bad news is that only a small portion of that is premium content, and even less of it is premium content that you actually might want to watch (i.e., not just the dregs of cable reruns).

No Six Feet Under for you!

Some content partners — like HBO — make older library content available through the service. The entire run of The Sopranos is available, for instance, if you want to relive the series by watching all the episodes back-to-back-to-back. But other series, such as Six Feet Under or Deadwood, are notably missing. Perhaps more importantly, shows that are currently still on the air — like True Blood — have very few, if any, episodes available for viewing. And those that are available are from early seasons, which means subscribers won’t be able to catch up to what’s happening currently.

A glance at some other content partners paints a pretty similar picture: AMC has the complete miniseries The Prisoner available, but no Mad Men; Discovery has no full episodes of Mythbusters; and Bravo only has two recent episodes of Top Chef online. TNT is one exception, with current seasons of full-length videos from its shows, like The Closer and Men of a Certain Age. But those full-length episodes are also available on TNT.tv, so there’s nothing from it that isn’t available elsewhere.

Search and Discovery

See anything you like?

While the site has a ton of full-length TV content, finding the content that you want to watch isn’t as easy as you would expect. While its search function works pretty well, the interface for browsing Xfinity’s full-length show and full-length movie libraries is pretty dreadful. You can scroll through hundreds of titles alphabetically, hoping to find something you’d like to see, or you can scroll through content by cable channel, or browse by genre. Either way, it’s not much better than the scrolling interface in most set-top box electronic program guides.

That said, the service has a fairly reliable recommendations system on show pages. If you’re watching 16 & Pregnant, for instance, you might also like Teen Mom, The Hills or Desperate Landscapes. Unfortunately, it gets buried below the video, alongside episode listings — so the average user might not scroll down or even notice that it’s there.

Video Quality

If there’s one thing worth giving Xfinity kudos for, it’s the quality of the video on the service. Using the Move Networks player, which is installed along with the Comcast Access application (if it’s not already on the viewing device), Xfinity provides pretty seamless video in most network conditions. With HTTP-based adaptive bitrate streaming, the videos adjust to the bandwidth that’s available to the end user with no buffering or stoppage along the way. Despite some early reports of poor video quality in the early days of the service’s launch, I had no problems when I tested it out at my parents’ home, which had cable broadband, or in my apartment, where I have FiOS high-speed Internet service.

Conclusion

It’s difficult to fault Comcast too much for the early response to its Fancast Xfinity TV service — after all, it was the first U.S. cable company to dips its toes in the TV Everywhere waters. Given the technical hurdles involved and business discussions it must have had to get its content partners on board, it’s quite an accomplishment that the service even launched. That said, the initial iteration of Xfinity seems half-baked, both in terms of content available and user experience — and the authentication process is just plain painful. A somewhat tech-savvy user like me might have the patience to clear cookies and reinstall the plug-in to get the service working every time, but your average user won’t.

And why would she? To watch back episodes of The Sopranos? Not likely.

55 Responses to “Hands On with Comcast’s Xfinity: TV Everywhere That’s Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be”

  1. Chuck

    Fancast is great. However the ability to search the content is terrible. Trying to find something worth watching amongst the hundreds of titles available is tortuous. Especially if you visit Fancast often, and spend a lot of time trying to pick the new titles out of all the old.

    What fancast needs:
    1) title sort by views (day, week, month)
    2) title sort by rating
    3) title sort by date added

    • Hey Chuck,

      We agree, we just have too much content and it’s become hard to decide what to watch.

      So we have been working over the last few months on a new user experience that will make it easier to find stuff. We’ll start rolling it out later this month and I hope you’ll enjoy it.

      Best,
      Tom

  2. RaVeN ChAoS

    I have been trying for the last 2 days to get this to work for me.
    I have tried on 3 Macs and now a Windows 7 machine all have the same issue, they can play normal content, but the Premium channel I subscribe to won’t play content they just tell me I need to be a subscriber. I was in chat for a few hours today back and forth trying various solution all of which I have seen in this thread. The support agent said my account shows my premium channel subscriptions, but for some reason when logging in to fancast it doesn’t see them. I’m guessing a permissions issue?

    I am excited to watch my HBO series on the go and hope to get this resolved.

    Another issue I had was on the first machine I attempted this on I authorized and then when it didn’t work I tried deleting everything off the mac and deleted the authorization from the fancast settings, however on reinstall it still had the original installs info and said it was authorized although online it showed 0 of 3. I through away comcast access, air and some preferences files and it still found the old info. Any one have any ideas? Basically I cannot reauthorize my home computer because the app thinks it already is, but online doesn’t

  3. Richard

    Confirmed, the 7008 fix worked! I have access to premium content. I did have to sign in at least once as the primary account holder. After that my account number started appearing in the authorization website and Fancast now works smoothly.

    • shannon

      is it currently fixable or are we just going to get yanked around like everyone else and get frustrated? maybe we should just wait until it is really fixed system-wide and you can send out a massive email to everyone who has comcast and say “we have finally fixed the problems that should have been fixed before we launched this.”

  4. shannon

    when I try to play HBO content, specifically True Blood, I get an error message saying, “this video is currently unavailable error 613″ please check back soon.” what does this mean?

    • nasty nate

      so the diy fix worked for error 7008. got comcast access installed. but still cant watch movies, because it just keeps asking me to authorize my comouter over and over again. got anymore diy fixes.

      • Nate, check 1) that your computer’s clock time is correct (the switch to DST may not have registered) and 2) that your computer’s time zone is correct and matches the clock time. Then shutdown Comcast Access and try to watch the video again and follow the onscreen prompts to authorize your computer.

        If correcting an issue with #1 or #2 doesn’t stop the loop, send an email to info[at]fancast[dot]com with your Comcast account # and we’ll get a ticket opened for you. Don’t post your account # here.

        Thanks,
        Stephen

    • Keith Smith

      Comcast is hilarious. I install the special installer that is supposed to keep me from having the dreaded 7008 error, and yet I immediately get the same error. Lovely guys.

      I’d love some help to fix this problem. Any other brilliant DIY solutions?

  5. A fix for the 7008 error has been identified and I’ve made sure our Tier 2 agents are aware and trained. Please go to http://www.fancast.com/help to contact customer support and they will work to get you in touch with Tier 2.

    If you don’t want to contact Customer Support again, we’re also working on a DIY fix, but I don’t have an ETA on that yet. I will update this thread when it’s available.

    Thanks,
    Stephen

    • I have tried everything but I am getting a different error! and nobody can fix it, please help!

      I have comcast triple play package with starz and HBO and OnDemand and all that.

      ‘Error Code: 5060’ using the Comcast Acess program, ‘Sorry this video is currently unavaiable. (Error 613)’ from the fancast website, and another 5060 error when trying to access from http://www.comcast.net/comcast-access/ website!

      I have probably spent 4 hours or more online or on the phone with comcast/fancast reps but nothing has helped. I have tried multiple computers, reinstalled, deleted cookies and folders in the programs directory, reinstalled, rebooted, uninstalling and installing adobe-air, tried accessing comcast access from the above http link…always an error!

      Please help! – thank you, Linke

  6. I am also getting the 7008 error code when I try to install the service. Windows 7 Ultimate with IE ver 8.0. Brand new computer that meets all of the Hardware specs listed on their site. Very strange. And from what I’ve read above, I don’t even want to try to waste two hours of my life to try to get it resolved in customer support, only to find out there is no solution. Can someone please post the solution if/when it ever gets resolved?

    Good luck all.

  7. OMG THIS IS SO ANNOYING…. I really want to use the fancast service, but I keep getting the dreaded 7008 error code. I talked to support for a couple hours (2 times) and they have no solution. Someone please help???

  8. I’ve got to agree, the Comcast staff works their tails off to fix these issues. I had some problems with fancast, and by the time it was done, there were at least 4 people working on it, and I was getting daily status reports.

    • It’s the same crappy comcast service rewrapped under a different name because comcast has such a terrible customer service track record that is now biting them in the butt. It’s got to make you wonder why a company would want to prevent users of their service from publically airing their extreme technical incompetence and colosal bad service? Are they afraid that those considering the xfinity label will discover the switch? If you dress up a pig with a suit and tie, it’s still a pig. Why not just provide better customer service and train your agents better? Why play the rebranding shell game with your paying customers? Why comcast/xfinity why?

  9. Are you serious Anon??? This guy is trying to help us and you are goinhg of on a TOS tangent? Its people like you that mess up good things for everyone else. Keep your trap shut and let Stephen help…

  10. Stephen,

    That’s an exact quote from the terms of service. What you intend as a product manager is irrelevant until you convince your lawyers to change the clickwrap agreement. The contract terms say what they say, that’s what Comcast’s lawyers will argue. They will also argue that bloggers and media companies that disclose “analysis or performance benchmarks” could not reasonably rely on your soothing words that Comcast didn’t mean to silence them since you are just a Product Manager.

    Just accept the terms (sign the contract), trust us, says Stephen. We don’t mean you any harm. I’m sure you are a nice guy Stephen, and you don’t want to sue your customers or silence them. So eliminate those words from the terms of service. Go further. Add your words: “Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent public disclosure of reviews and feedback on user experiences of the service.” Tell us when the new terms are ready. Until you do, you’re just a marketing talking head.

  11. Interesting that Comcast responded to your blog. The Xfinity Client terms of service contain provisions designed to deter, silence, and punish anyone reviewing the service. Specifically — any “analysis” of its performance! As if bad Comcast quality and customer service wasn’t bad enough already, imagine what happens once they can litigate against any unhappy customer who speaks up…

    Read for yourself from the clickwrap agreement you must accept before viewing Xfinity content on your machine:

    “(9) disclose, without our prior written approval, the Software, or any code, information or materials contained or related to the Software, license keys, analysis or performance information, results of Software performance benchmarks or documentation to any entity or use any of the foregoing other than as expressly authorized hereunder. Any such forbidden use may result in the immediate termination of your license to the Software and/or other legal action. The features of the Software are intended only for use of the Protected Services. You shall notify Comcast immediately of any actual or imminent unauthorized access to, or use or disclosure of, any of the foregoing by calling 1-800-COMCAST. You recognize that the unauthorized use or disclosure of any of the foregoing will give rise to irreparable injury to Comcast or Comcast affiliates for which monetary damages may be an inadequate remedy; and you agree that Comcast or its Comcast affiliates may seek and obtain injunctive relief against the breach or threatened breach of your obligations hereunder, in addition to any other legal and equitable remedies which may be available. “

    • Peter Schweitzer

      The product is still in “Beta” mode. Which means testing, almost ready for full release. I would think Comcast would welcome all of these comments in their efforts to improve service. It would be difficult to agree to their terms and service if the program does not function and cannot be setup.

      Comcast Internet, Telephone and Cable service is the best value out there. I have had no problems, except for the installation of Fancast. I am sure it will be corrected at its final release.

      • Thanks Peter. You’re right that Fancast XFINITY TV is a Beta product and that the Fancast team does appreciate and seek out feedback. (FYI, our terms of service do NOT prohibit customer feedback or review; they are intended to address reverse engineering, theft of service, etc.)

        I’m interested in getting problems fixed for our customers and making sure that any learnings are used to benefit others. I’m particularly concerned with the customer support of our product and addressing issues or erroneous solutions that an agent may give you.

        Again, if you’ve contacted Comcast customer support regarding Fancast and feel you’ve not been helped, send me an email at infoatfancastdotcom (reference this thread, include your support ticket # and Comcast.net email address).

        You can also find help specifically for Fancast at http://www.fancast.com/help.

        Thanks,
        Stephen
        Fancast Product Manager

  12. Big fat fail. Two hours with Comcast support over “Error Code 7008” under XP and they have nothing. Flush everything, reinstall everything, reboot.. The final “solutions” offered (before I gave up):

    1.) Downgrade IE8 to IE7 because it might be causing the failure (even though I’m using Firefox) and BTW downgrading IE is a royal pain in the A –BUT I did it, and no, it did not work.
    2.) Revert XP SP3 to SP2. Ya right. Just for this.
    3.) Try using Windows 7 (because it’s free? And why is this suddenly the universal solution for all XP issues?)..

    They have no clue.
    At all.

    • Hey Richard, sorry to hear you’re having problems with Fancast. As a solution, you definitely should not have been asked to downgrade to SP2 or upgrade to W7.

      I’d like to help you get up and running if you still want to try. So I can look up your problem ticket, send me an email at infoatfancastdotcom (at=@, dot= . :)). Please reference this comment thread and include your comcast.net email address.

      Stephen
      Fancast Product Manager

      • Thanks for the response, I will get in touch.

        Sorry to have put it right out there like that, but I had a total of four sessions and it was obvious they were just taking shots in the dark at “Error 7008”. Sometimes the suggestions from support are so insane you have to wonder how people with no tech-savvy even USE a computer..

  13. I tried as well. The comcast installer doesn’t install. It says, “You may install at a later date”…”Error Code 7008”. Not worth spending an hour trying to figure out how to watch a 30 minute show online and I absolutely hate comcast customer/technical support, they act like everyone is an idiot – Did you try rebooting? The last time I called my internet was down and I was told that it was my wiring and I needed to replace all my wires because they were outdated…even though it it was working 10 minutes earlier? Bummer, I was hoping to try out the new service, but it doesn’t look like it will be very useful…Good idea, bad design.

  14. I get error code 7008 when I try to install comcast’s proprietary access package. The customer service rep in Bombay is really not helping and now I have an ‘escalated ticket’ to get it resolved since their fancast support team clearly knows nothing about fancast.

    • Hey Daniel, I’m a Fancast product manager. Sorry to hear you’re having problems with our site.

      I’d like to help you get up and running…
      You can contact me via twitter @FancastSupport. Follow me so you can direct message.

      Thanks,
      Stephen

  15. So in short: difficult search features, old content, lackluster premium content, most likely would not work on Mac or Linux, but good video quality.

    Sounds like what I had claimed it would turn out to be all along: a half-assed attempt made solely to try to keep people from ditching cable. And that’s from a major provider. My Cable co is much smaller than Comcast and barely offers decent video through a cable box.

    • Jim, it doesn’t appear you actually used the service, but chose to post a negative remarks anyway. Just to clarify, it does work with Mac (I can’t speak for Linux, I did not test on Linux). I did not have the same issues Ryan Lawler had with authentication.

      While I had no authentication issues, the sign on process and installation of an Adobe Air app might be challenging for some customers, I found the service to work very well over both Comcast broadband and over FiOS at work. The service is still a beta so I expect some issues.

      As for the intentions of the service providers that are rolling out TV Everywhere, rather than impugning their motives, could it be that they simply want to roll out new services over their networks to their customers? I welcome the value add to my cable subscription.

      • Peter Schweitzer

        Well, I do subscribe to Comcast and pay almost $200.00 per month. Error code 7008 does appear on all computers I have tried to install. I understand “Beta”, but the Comcast support team should be able to help. They can’t. How about waiting until programs actually work before they are released.

        On a happier note, regular TV programs work just great! My Slingbox is the best alternative. I can watch all of my own programming with no problems. Going on 4 years now!

  16. I had a similar experience. I consider myself a fairly tech-savvy user, but setting up Comcast Access required a lengthy call with a customer service rep, as well as multiple re-installs and manually deleting cookies associated with the Xfinity page. Now that it’s working, I’m watching the first season of True Blood, but disappointed I won’t be able to catch up to the current season. Much of the content seems either undesirable or previously available on Hulu or elsewhere.

  17. Same problem here with HBO and other premium channels. Computes say they are authorized, by the manage my devices screen shows 0 of 3. The “help” people don’t even understand the problem. They keep insisting that I am not a subscriber to the premium channels.

  18. Preston Lewis

    I tried the fancast.com service and was disappointed in how much it looked and felt like hulu.com Largely the same shows too. I was also disappointed that no HBO shows would work, even though I subscribe to all the HBO channels.

    I tried fancast from home using my own computer, no parental control issues that I could see.

  19. Hey Ryan,

    Thanks for the writeup. You are correct that we are working through some tech issues…that’s why we are still in beta. Sorry that you seem to have hit a few of them. Let me give you some more details.

    The fact that you’re using your mothers account gets into some parental control issues. If you were the primary account holder, you would have had a better experience. We’ll be launching better parental controls which will solve this issue in the next 4-8 weeks.

    In the last few days we have identified an issue where you are asked to reinstall the app. This turns out to be an issue with Adobe Air, and Adobe are quickly working with us to resolve the issue. As soon as we have a patch we will release it. In the mean time, you can turn on the Comcast Access app manually and restart your browser. No need to delete cookies. It’s a cumbersome workaround, but as I said we’ll have a fix ASAP.

    If you have further issues, there are direct access points to customer support folks trained to help with Fancast, and you can find them here: http://www.fancast.com/help/contact-us/

    In terms of the amount of content, that is determined by the specific content partner. We hope to add more as the service gets up and running. We do have over 1000 shows (15,000 episodes) and 1000 movies right now, so that’s not a horrible start…probably more than any other site. We also have about 50,000 short form clips & trailers. I join you in looking forward to AMC adding Mad Men as well as more HBO and Bravo.

    Glad you liked the search, video quality and recommendations. Our users actually like the discovery pages too, but we have a new set of UX that we’ll be launching over the next few months I think you will like. With so much content, we had to explore new ways of presenting it. A good problem to have.

    Again apologies you have hit some issues. Look for us to fix those quickly and hopefully you’ll be able to check it out again then.

    Best,
    Tom