More than a year after Comcast Corp. disclosed ambitious plans to create an online video service similar to cable-TV, the Philadelphia company says it has made progress toward that goal with Xfinity TV.
The company announced Monday it had officially launched about 90 online content partners for Xfinity TV and almost 150,000 "video choices online." It's free for Comcast's 24 million cable-TV subscribers as part of an "enhanced value" for those customers but not available Comcast's Internet-only customers or those who subscribe to competing pay-TV services.
Comcast's online service has gone through several name iterations - beginning with the generic "TV Everywhere" when it was announced in the summer of 2009 and then "OnDemand Online." Comcast announced its plans to market its services under the Xfinity brand in February, thus Xfinity TV.
Customers can access the service through www.XfinityTV.com and create a user name and password, a Comcast official said. "As long as you are a Comcast cable-TV customer, you can access this service anywhere in the United States," said Matt Strauss, senior vice president and general manager of Comcast Interactive Media.
The service is part of Comcast's business strategy to satisfy cable-TV or Internet customers who would like to view more news and entertainment online. Many believe that cable-TV providers face the same disruptive forces from the Internet that hurt the music and newspaper businesses by making content available either free (newspapers) or on an a-la-carte basis (music.)
So-called "over-the-top" content providers threaten to drain Comcast subscribers by offering lower-cost alternatives to Comcast's cable-TV package by using an Internet connection to simply download broadcast-TV, cable-TV shows or movies they want without purchasing a slew of content. Among those over-the-top competitors are Netflix, Apple TV, Boxee and Roku, experts say.
"The ultimate objective is for Comcast to extend its market power from cable-TV to online video," said Hal Singer, managing director of Navigant Economics L.L.C. in Washington. "The fact that Apple has stepped in has the potential to be very disruptive to the cable model," he said.
In effect, with Xfinity TV, Comcast is making its cable-TV and movie content available free online to its pay-TV subscribers so they would be reluctant to purchase the content from a different, or lower-priced, service, Singer said.