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Comcast launches $18 streaming TV service, but only for its own broadband customers

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Less a rival to Sling TV and PS Vue, and more a gateway to regular cable

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A View Of The Comcast Center Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Comcast

Comcast is beginning to roll out a streaming TV service across its entire US footprint, confirming reports from earlier in the year by Reuters and Variety. Previously known as Xfinity Stream (and described in detail here), the broadband-based TV offering is being rebranded Xfinity Instant TV for its expansion to all Comcast markets, which will be completed within the next couple weeks according to Variety.

Aimed at cable TV holdouts, Instant TV gives you a so-called “skinny bundle” of live TV including roughly a dozen channels (including the big four broadcast networks plus PBS, C-SPAN, and others) for $18 per month on top of your monthly Comcast internet bill. No set-top box is required to use it, but you’ve got to be a Comcast broadband customer for eligibility. Comcast’s early tests of Instant TV included HBO as part of the basic package, but that’s no longer the case; now getting HBO will tack an extra $15 onto your bill. That’s unfortunate, as including HBO at no extra cost would’ve been fairly disruptive — but also probably bad for Comcast’s cable business.

Like internet-based TV services including Sling TV and PlayStation Vue, Comcast’s Xfinity Instant TV offers numerous tiers of channel packages. Aside from the $18 base subscription, you can add CNBC, CNN, ESPN, Fox News, and MSNBC for an additional $30 per month. That’s known as the “sports and news” add-on. There’s also a $15 entertainment bundle that includes AMC, Comedy Central, USA, A&E, TBS, TNT, Discovery, and Food Network. A $10 “kids and family” pack will add Nickelodeon, Disney Channel, Cartoon Network, MTV, and TLC to your channel list.

You can stream live programming with the Xfinity Stream app from a mobile device or desktop web browser, or watch on-demand shows with TV Everywhere apps like HBO Go, WatchABC, and others. The service includes a cloud DVR feature, which can record up to two programs simultaneously and holds “up to 20 hours of HD programming.”

But this isn’t a straight-on competitor to Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. For one, Xfinity Instant TV is only be available in markets that Comcast already serves; it’s not launching nationwide. Also, some networks can only be live streamed from your home Wi-Fi network. Outside the home, you’ll often be limited to on-demand stuff.

Xfinity Stream first launched in Boston and has since expanded to Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and New Hampshire. Comcast plans to offer add-on packages with additional channels (including one with ESPN) for prices ranging up to $40 per month. At that point, you start to approach cable package pricing. And unlike Sony or YouTube or Hulu, Comcast’s ultimate hope is that you eventually just step up to full-on cable with a set-top box. This is just meant to be an affordable gateway to get you on that path. Here’s the full list of optional channel add-on packages:

  • HBO ($15 per month)
  • Starz ($12 per month)
  • Kids and Family ($10 per month): Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, MTV, National Geographic Channel, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, NickToons, Universal Kids, TeenNick and TLC.
  • Entertainment ($15 per month): A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, E!, Food Network, FX, FXX, Hallmark Channel, HISTORY, HGTV, Lifetime, OWN, Syfy, TBS, TNT, TV One, USA and VH1.
  • Sports and News ($30 per month): CNBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPNU, Fox Business, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports, NFL Network and Regional Sports Networks based on markets.