By Dan Moren
April 20, 2016 3:08 PM PT
Comcast may finally let me stream TV on my TV
I’ve been using Comcast’s Stream TV service for a few months now, but it’ll really start earning its keep this weekend when Game of Thrones returns.
On the whole it’s fine. There’s a decent selection of channels to stream live, integration with some third-party apps, On Demand content, and a cloud DVR feature that’s nifty. Plus, I get access to HBO Go. And it costs the same $15 per month that HBO Go would cost on its own. Not too bad a deal.1
But. My chief frustration—and what keeps me from using more of the service’s functionality—is that the only way to get at the features is via my computer or iOS apps. I can’t stream any of this content where I watch most things: my TV.
That may be changing, though. Earlier this year, the FCC approved a proposal that would open up the set-top box market—a move that Comcast and other cable companies are understandably worried about. That move might, for example, let you use an Xbox or Apple TV to receive your cable content.
So Comcast has decided to try and get ahead of the curve by today launching its Xfinity TV Partner Program:
Through this new program, we will expand the range of retail devices our customers can use to access Xfinity TV cable service without the need to lease a set-top box. By leveraging the open HTML5 standard that has been widely adopted across the industry, we are providing a common framework to make it easy for TV and other device manufacturers to bring our Xfinity TV Partner App to customers on their devices.
Sooooo, basically more app platforms. Comcast says it’s launching later this year with Samsung Smart TVs and will also be available via the Roku. No news about the Apple TV or Fire TV, though I’d assume those will end on the list as well.2
In other words: no need to harsh our mellow, FCC!
In light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace, the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary. The FCC’s proposed set-top box mandate threatens to undermine this highly-dynamic marketplace, create substantial costs and consumer harms, and will take years to develop — only to be likely outdated by the time it reaches the marketplace - all in an effort to achieve what apps are already delivering for consumers.
Unsurprisingly, the FCC isn’t convinced. Here’s what an agency official told The Verge:
In a statement to The Verge, an FCC official said that Comcast’s app is still too locked down to be a true solution to the cable box issue. ”While we do not know all of the details of this announcement, it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to,” the official stated.
Apple and Amazon both support a universal search feature that should allow users of those set-top boxes to search Comcast and other services, assuming Comcast builds a half-decent app that will allow it.
So, I guess the good news is that I will eventually be able to watch TV on my TV? But there are currently still plenty of restrictions in place to bar cord-cutters, including availability windows and per-device content licensing (i.e. letting you watch a program via your browser, but not in an app or on a set-top box).
The cable companies and content providers have been resistant to the march towards cord-cutting and Internet-based television, but frankly they’re not going to be able to hold out much longer. This might be another small drift in that direction, but it’s part of an overwhelming tide that’s going to be hard to reverse.
The channel selection is pretty limited. I get broadcast—in HD and SD—all of HBO’s channels, a local cable news channel, and C-SPAN. If I want to watch outside of my house, it’s HBO and C-SPAN. That’s it. ↩
You’ve got an—admittedly kind of weak—iOS app already. Porting that sucker to Apple TV probably wouldn’t take long. ↩
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