Comcast is making its most radical move yet to embrace cord-cutters.
The cable giant is launching an app for Sling TV, the over-the-top subscription television service from rival Dish Network, on the Xfinity Flex device for broadband-only customers.
It’s a move that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, as Comcast — like other pay-TV providers — had been seeking to fight the exodus of video customers. Now, it’s catering to cord-cutters on their own terms, adopting a strategy of retaining high-margin broadband customers.
Sling TV is the first “virtual” pay-TV service Comcast is adding to Flex. The on-boarding of Sling TV to Flex is a tangible sign that Comcast is prioritizing broadband as the center-of-the-plate service. The thinking is that broadband-only customers have already opted to not take Xfinity TV. And if Sling TV is what they prefer, it’s better to give them an incentive to use the Flex device, where Comcast can market services like NBCUniversal’s Peacock and potentially upsell them to fuller-fledged TV packages.
This past May, Comcast said it had deployed more than 1 million Flex set-tops to broadband customers. The operator is giving away one box for free; additional Flex devices are $5 per month.
Comcast is pushing Flex as its broadband subscriber base keeps growing — and the TV side keeps shrinking. In the first quarter of 2020, it reported a net gain of 466,000 residential high-speed internet customers (climbing to 26.9 million) and a net loss of 388,000 video customers (dropping to 19.9 million).
Xfinity Flex customers can log in or sign up for any of Sling TV’s packages, including Orange, Blue and Latino tiers. However, Comcast will not handle billing for Sling TV as it does in the case of some partners like Netflix.
Last week Sling TV launched a one-year price guarantee for all new and existing customers, promising to keep the price of Sling Orange and Sling Blue unchanged at $30 per month through Aug. 1, 2021. That came after price hikes announced by YouTube TV and FuboTV.
Comcast actually inked a pact with Dish back in 2016 for Sling TV distribution and originally envisioned bringing all of Sling TV’s packages to the X1 video platform. In 2018, Comcast launched Sling’s international programming packages on X1, but the cable operator is not enabling access to the core Sling TV services on the set-top platform for TV customers.
Meanwhile, other pay-TV providers have similar deals to offer third-party OTT television streaming services to broadband subs. Verizon, for example, is selling YouTube TV (now $65 monthly) to Fios Internet customers under a pact the telco signed last year with Google.