Is Comcast’s Xfinity TV a Trojan Horse?


Comcast (s CMCSA) took the beta tag off its Xfinity TV service yesterday, making the online video service available to all of its pay TV subscribers, regardless of their ISP. Take that one step further, with Comcast offering Xfinity TV as a paid service to consumers that don’t already live in its service area, and you mark the beginning of the end for pay TV being tied to the physical cable plant.

So far, Xfinity has been offered to Comcast’s existing subscribers in what looks like a defensive maneuver to keep them from cutting the cord. With average cable subscriptions edging above $70 (and anecdotal evidence suggesting that many subscribers pay well north of $100), companies like Comcast have rolled out TV Everywhere services as a way to give more value to customers, by allowing them to watch cable content online.

Comcast now boasts more than 150,000 videos from 90 different content partners, but the real key to Xfinity TV is the content available only to Comcast customers. The whole idea behind TV Everywhere is that subscribers will also get access to online content in addition to what they pay for through linear cable programming.

While that service was once offered only to customers that paid for cable and high-speed Internet, Comcast is now making Xfinity TV online available to pay TV subscribers even if they use another ISP for broadband. That still limits the potential number of TV subscribers to those that live in residential areas that Comcast has infrastructure and provides service to. So what if Xfinity TV weren’t tied to Comcast’s physical cable plant at all?

With access to a wealth of streaming content already, Comcast could offer up an over-the-top video service in markets that it doesn’t already serve, and it could do so without building out the costly network infrastructure or getting the franchise agreements usually required. Comcast could finally become bigger than its actual network footprint, and it could add users as opposed to watching them defect to competitive IPTV, satellite (and increasingly) online offerings.

Since it wouldn’t be paying for network infrastructure, it could (again, theoretically) undercut those local competitors with a cheaper online offering and still provide much of the content that is important to its viewers on-demand. Like Netflix, (s NFLX), it would essentially compete against other cable providers, using their own data networks to do so. Not just that, but if and when its merger with NBC Universal (s GE) goes through, it would be able to include that content as well.

Comcast has downplayed this point in its communications to the FCC seeking approval of the merger, saying that online video today isn’t truly competitive to cable TV, nor will it be anytime soon. In defending the deal, Comcast says that its properties, combined with NBCU and its stake in Hulu, make up only a small portion of online video viewing and ad revenue.

But at the same time, Comcast is building an online video powerhouse that could totally change the paradigm of how content is consumed and delivered. With 150,000 titles and access to content from various premium cable networks, Comcast could beat out Netflix, Hulu or any other online video service, if only it weren’t tied to the physical cable plant.

Granted, not everyone would be on board with such a plan. A Comcast spokesperson confirms that the rights negotiated with content partners for Xfinity TV tie the availability of online access to a physical pay TV subscription. And some cable networks — like HBO, for example — have been extremely hesitant to make content available online except as part of a TV Everywhere offering.

But in tomorrow’s all-IP, all on-demand world, should it really matter if a pay TV subscriber is connected to the local Comcast headend or if he gets his content delivered over-the-top through another ISP? In that brave new world, it shouldn’t matter to the content owner how his content is delivered, merely that it’s bought and paid for.

Photo by Hynek Moravec [GFDL or CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Just to clarify:
vs Hulu:

• Must have a Flash 10.0.32 enabled computer
• Does not offer live TV
• No full original episodes of premiums – no HBO, Showtime, etc.
• You must pay $9.99/mo for Hulu Plus to get more current and past season episodes and HD
• Can’t stop and start a movie between devices – If you start watching a program on your TV and want to finish on your mobile, you have to re-start the program.
• Comcast has the largest On Demand library in the industry with over 25,000 total choices and 6,000 choices in HD
• offers 150,000 video choices online to view anytime, anywhere
• Xfinity is the only provider that offers all premiums online – If you are a subscriber to HBO and Showtime, you can watch Entourage and Dexter online.
• All of this online content can be accessed anywhere in the US you have a web connection.
• Subscribers are not required to have Comcast internet to use service.

• Does not offer live TV
• No premiums offered online except Starz Play
• Netflix doesn’t offer current TV show episodes – just past season episodes.
• Netflix can’t offer movies before they are nationally released on DVD
• Not all of Netflix movies on DVD can be streamed online
• Can’t stop and start a movie between devices – If you start watching a program on your TV and want to finish on your mobile, you have to re-start the program.

Tech Introvert

TV Everywhere is just a useless rehash of content I already pay for. Comcast is missing the point, only 2 things matter to consumers: content and price.

Netflix is growing so quickly because it offers more content than one could watch in a lifetime, on-demand and HD, for $9/month. Even if it’s a limited selection, it’s still an amazing value. As cable bills spike past $100/month, it’s becoming more difficult for consumers to justify that expense. Especially as viable (cheaper!) alternatives like Netflix, Hulu, 99 cent Apple rentals, etc. arise.

Online + on-demand streaming is becoming ubiquitous. If Comcast wants to become a player they need to offer more flexible and competitive plans. 150-channel package bundles for $100/month aren’t going to work for much longer, whether or not they’re streamed online.

Marco A.

Network neutrality will be the defining issue for net TV. Otherwise Xfinity could get blocked by other cable ISPs, and vice versa with Comcast blocking competitors, potentially including Apple TV.

Mobile operators already effectively block mainstream-level net TV usage with monthly bandwidth usage caps. 5GB is enough to follow a couple of shows, not to watch hours of TV a day, streaming in through LTE and out to the big screen via HDMI.


I fiddled around with XFinityTV the first week I had it – ComCast is my ISP.

That was it. They don’t offer anything I can’t get from AppleTV and DirecTV. And generally what they offer isn’t in comparable HD.

Including Apple’s 720p.

Phil Leigh

Ryan, this is a thought-provoking idea. If Xfinity can offer popular live sports then I can visualize a great many CATV subscribers discontinuing service and taking broadband ISP along with the premium Xfinity as an alternative to regular Pay TV Services. The other cable operators would scream bloody murder, so I wonder how the Xfinity’s content providers would respond to their objections.

David H. Deans

The core value proposition for the “TV Everywhere” concept is still unclear to me. Their customers asked for this capability? Perhaps when there are more people using the service the inherent benefit will become more apparent. The beta was very small. Wasn’t it a few hundred users, mostly Comcast employees?


Comcast will struggle when Verizon launches LTE with upto 10mbps wireless connection. Their current $60 only for internet will be challenged. That is why they are bundling these TV services.


Couple Comcast’s TV Everywhere content library with some type of Comcast distributed set-top Internet connected device and the likes of Apple/Google TV, who offer relatively little content, may not stand a chance.

As long as Comcast’s device includes most of the non-proprietary access and features of competitive devices, these other devices would face a hard sale compared to one bundled with Comcast’s content.

It’s hard to imagine this type of market expansion not eventually happening.

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