In a big step forward for the TV Everywhere concept, Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) is taking the beta tag off Xfinity TV and opening more than 150,000 hours of online content to all of its digital video subs — no matter which ISP they use. The beta version initially launched with access limited to subscribers getting their TV and internet access through the cable operator because it was easier technologically.
The move has added resonance given Comcast’s pending merger with NBC Universal (NYSE: GE) and the scrutiny on content access through the internet as the FCC considers approval. It may be especially useful in the aftermath of News Corp.’s short-lived blackout of Fox programming on Fox.com and Hulu for Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) ISP subs.
The process is also less cumbersome. Comcast digital subs log in with their Comcast ID and password, then start to watch. No download. It’s all browser based.
The service is layered on top of Comcast’s all-access video portal, the former Fancast.com now known as Xfinity TV. (The brand transition is confusing: Fancast.com is still the domain and the brand on the identifying browser info but the site is all Xfinity TV. )
Any user can access a large chunk of the programming, including the same content they would get on basic Hulu.com plus something not on Hulu — CBS (NYSE: CBS). But only Comcast digital video subs have access to the premium cable programming from Showtime, HBO, Cinemax, Starz and Encore, plus some programming from a variety of basic cable nets. Comcast says premium Xfinity TV offers 150,000 video “choices” from nearly 90 content partners, some in HD.
Comcast describes the online content as “free” — a bit of stretch since it’s available only to customers who already pay for video. It’s more like “no additional charge.” That doesn’t diminish the potential value for users, who should be able to get more use out of that video subscription in multiple locations and across devices.
My TV: Access also includes a batch of features — remote DVR management, watchlists, search across platforms, social media sharing. Matt Strauss, SVP & GM of Comcast Interactive, explains more on the Comcast corporate blog.