Comcast is launching a new streaming cable TV service, called Stream, that will let Xfinity internet customers pay $15 a month on top of their internet bill to watch shows from around a dozen networks on tablet, laptop, and smartphone. Stream is launching in beta form first in Boston at the end of the summer, before moving to Chicago and Seattle before the end of the year. Comcast says it plans to offer Stream to Xfinity internet customers across the US by early 2016.
The service lets subscribers watch shows from HBO, Fox, NBC, and other networks on laptops, tablets, and phones, but it appears that subscribers will only be able to stream inside their home. In addition to live TV, Comcast says the service will also feature on demand movies, access to the TV Everywhere service that lets pay TV subscribers access apps that need a cable subscription, and a cloud DVR that lets users stream recorded shows to their devices.
Matthew Strauss, Comcast's executive vice president, said that the company is trying to become "much, much, much more surgical" in how it targets products. Stream, he said, is aimed at younger consumers who wanted to watch TV without the need for a TV. "Clearly, there are changes that are happening in the market," Strauss told The New York Times. "Not everybody is going to want a full pay-TV bundle."
The new service will only work on your home network
But where Stream is ostensibly similar to over-the-top services such as Sling, there are fundamental differences between the two. Sling offers access to cable networks such as ESPN, where the only cable network included with Stream is HBO. Sling also lets users watch TV anywhere, while Xfinity internet customers are limited to using Stream on their home Wi-Fi, a restriction that raises questions about net neutrality. A Comcast representative told Engadget that the service is IP-based, and is delivered over the company's "managed network." Netflix CEO Reed Hastings hit out at Comcast in 2012 for its Xbox 360 Xfinity app, which appeared to stream to console without counting against any monthly data cap — suggesting that the service was getting preferential treatment compared to other internet traffic.
The Wall Street Journal said last year that Comcast was in talks with Apple to produce a set-top box that would take advantage of priority internet traffic, but the talks reportedly broke down after Apple decided Comcast was "stringing it along" while developing its own technology. Apple is rumored to be developing its own online TV service, but needs to navigate the US TV landscape first, pulling local networks on board in order to launch a complete service. In the meantime, Comcast's latest streaming offering is an attempt by the company to cover all the bases, joining with its more traditional TV packages to pull in money from cord cutters and cable subscribers alike.
Disclosure: Comcast Ventures is an investor in Vox Media, The Verge's parent company.