What does a pay-TV service targeted at people who have shunned paying for cable television look like?
Comcast has a new answer: In another attempt to get “cord-nevers,” the U.S. cable giant is launching Xfinity Stream, an Internet-only TV service that offers HBO and the major broadcast TV networks, with both live and on-demand programming, for $15 per month to Comcast subs with standalone broadband service. Ultimately, though, Comcast’s over-the-top video strategy at this point looks more like a teaser meant to upsell subs to “real” pay TV.
At $15, Xfinity Stream matches the retail price point of HBO Now, premium cabler’s unbundled offering, available via Apple devices and Cablevision Systems (with Android support on deck). But Comcast’s over-the-top service also includes broadcast nets and other on-demand content, plus a cloud-based DVR.
Comcast’s OTT service will be available only to customers of the operator’s Xfinity Internet broadband service. The move is a response to other OTT services, including Dish Network’s Sling TV and Sony’s PlayStation Vue — although unlike Xfinity Stream those two include popular cable networks in their lineups. (Sling TV, meanwhile, lacks broadcast TV content, while PlayStation Vue does include locals in the three markets where the service has launched.)
Actually, Comcast has been in this neck of the woods before. In late 2013, the MSO debuted Internet Plus, a bundle with high-speed Internet service and a stripped-down channel lineup featuring HBO and broadcast nets, which it has marketed with limited success.
But the Internet Plus bundle still requires a set-top box, and it’s largely engineered around watching TV on TV. The Stream service, by contrast, doesn’t require a set-top box — or even a TV set — and is available across tablets, phones and computers. Live TV feeds in Xfinity Stream are available only in customers’ homes; on-demand titles, DVR recordings and titles from Comcast’s Streampix catalog may be access anywhere in the U.S.
“We want to make ordering Stream as easy as buying a song online,” Matt Strauss, EVP and g.m. of video services at Comcast, said in announcing the new service Monday.
However, Comcast’s pricing structure for Stream is designed to push consumers toward conventional cable TV. Its standalone 25-megabit-per-second “Performance” tier is $66.95 per month; adding Stream brings that to $81.95. Internet Plus, which also offers HBO and basic TV with 25-Mbps broadband, is normally priced at $69.95 to $74.95 monthly (depending on region) after 12-month $50 per month intro price.
Comcast will first launch Stream in Boston at the end of the summer, according to Strauss, followed by Chicago and Seattle. By early 2016, the company plans to make it available across its entire footprint.
Xfinity Stream also is designed to make Comcast’s growing — and lucrative — Internet services stickier with the optional Internet-TV add-on. At the end of the first quarter of 2015, the company had 22.4 million broadband subs, and about the same number of video customers.