Comcast Rolls Out ‘Xfinity Instant TV’ Beta

IP-delivered skinny TV service features local broadcast nets, VOD, cloud DVR, mix of add-on packages (Updated)
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Following lengthy trials in markets like Chicago and Boston, Comcast is now moving ahead with the beta launch of Xfinity Instant TV, an IP-delivered skinny video package targeted initially to broadband customers that starts at $18 for a lineup of local broadcast networks, a VOD library and a cloud DVR with 20 hours of storage.

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In addition to a batch of major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, Unimas, Univision), the core offering of the service also includes access to all public, education and governmental (PEG) channels.

Xfinity Instant TV, a service initially created for Comcast customers who also get high-speed Internet service from the company, doesn’t include national cable networks like ESPN, AMC, A&E and Disney Channel in the core package, but subscribers can get them by selecting and buying from a mix of add-on packages that span  genres such as Entertainment and Sports and News. Subs can also buy premium networks such as HBO and Starz (see below for more detail on those packages and add-ons).

Comcast said a beta version of Xfinity Instant TV will be rolling out across the MSO’s footprint over the next two weeks, and has set up a web site for sign-ups. To help prime the pump, Comcast is offering a 30-day free trial for Xfinity Instant TV. 

The new offering will help Comcast reach a subsection of broadband customers using a skinny package model that relies on a cloud-powered architecture that is already being used to power its flagship pay TV product, X1.

Xfinity Instant TV will also complement Internet Plus, a different slimmed-down, lower priced double-play (video and broadband) service that Comcast has been using as a customer upgrade path, in some cases, to X1. Comcast believes that Instant TV could provide a similar upgrade path to X1, the flagship video service that supports the MSO's mobile streaming app and a range of the MSO’s own set-tops, such as the new Xi5, a wireless box that supports High Dynamic Range.

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Early on, Comcast will support Xfinity Instant TV on web browsers and the Stream app for Android and iOS smartphones and tablet, as well as on supported Roku players and integrated Roku TVs. Comcast also plans to offer the service on apps for certain smart TVs from Samsung and LG Electronics and other TV-connected devices to be identified later. However, customers will be able to authenticate individual programmer apps across different TV-connected devices and consoles, the company said.

Update: Per the FAQ, Xfinity Instant TV customers can watch on up to two devices simultaneously, and they can record up to two shows at once, or record one show and watch another. The new product also does not support pay-per-view. Comcast said it's working to allow Xfinity Instant TV customers to rent and purchse and rent TV shows and movies. 

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"While we talk about importance of mobile-first, what we found is that, even for millennials, the television is important,” said Matt Strauss, who recently was promoted to EVP, Xfinity Services at Comcast Cable. “And people still default to the best screen that's available to them.”

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At its core, Xfinity Instant TV, is an in-footprint, in-home, managed Title VI pay TV service, and not an “over-the-top” video offering that is delivered to the home over the public Internet.

However, when Xfinity Instant TV subs are away from home, the service’s mobile-focused app will revert to one that is internet-delivered and allows access to content (live and VOD) with TV Everywhere rights, as well as a customer's cloud DVR recordings. 

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Targeting the ‘HSD-First’ Customer
The new offering, Strauss explained, will target an “HSD-first, video second” segment of Comcast’s consumer base.

“It’s for someone who has broadband service, but doesn’t necessarily take video. Or they want video, but they want a different video experience,” Strauss said.

Strauss said the cloud and digital technology underpinning Xfinity Instant TV is enabling Comcast to be more surgical in how it identifies and supports different consumer segments while “identifying new ways to get the right products to the right customer at the right time of their life.”

He added: “Now we can be much more precise how we look at an HSD-first customer, versus a customer who is very video-heavy, versus somebody who might be mobile-first,” Strauss said.

While the consumer segment being targeted by Xfinity Instant TV could include so-called cord-cutters, the new, no-contract offering is being influenced by the pricing and packaging needs of this HSD-first segment as well as the kind of digitally-focused experience that consumers are accustomed to getting from increasingly popular OTT and subscription VOD services.

For instance, Xfinity Instant TV subs can order and activate service online using a credit card and manage their subscription –including the addition or subtraction of add-on packages -- digitally.

“These are all attributes that are important to the segment that we’re trying to reach with Instant TV,” Strauss said. “In many ways it might have the characteristics of an OTT offering, but it's still being delivered as a more of a traditional bundle of services.”

In the home, Comcast won't use a traditional set-top box for Xfinity Instant TV but will require that customers use a Comcast-supplied gateway (monthly leasing fees are about $10), which supports both the high-speed Internet service and the separately-managed IP video service flow for the new skinny TV offering.

Comcast eventually will also let consumers get Xfinity Instant TV even if they don’t take the company’s high-speed internet product, thought they’ll still need a piece of equipment to get the IPTV service into the home on Comcast’s managed network.

“We very much plan to support that,” Strauss said. “But the most value is for customers who take the internet product. That’s really where we’re focusing our efforts.”

Instant TV the ‘Tip of the Spear’ On How Comcast Will Go to Market
Strauss stressed that X1 will remain Comcast’s core video service, but noted that the lessons learned and the digitally-focused components of the new Instant TV product will likely influence and enhance the company’s other products. 

“These are all attributes that, I think, have profound implications, more generally, around how we want to go to market,” he said. “Instant TV is the tip of the spear in how we have constructed a product that is really geared for our HSD-only customers….but it's rethinking how we go to market and how we provide customers different types of choices.”

Comcast said customers accessing Xfinity Instant TV through the Stream app on browsers and mobile devices will not be charged any outlet fees, and that additional outlet fees are being waived for all customers, including Instant TV customers, while the Xfinity TV partner app for the Roku platform remains in beta.

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Xfinity Instant TV will focus on the 50 million homes in the MSO’s existing footprint. Though Comcast has secured out-of-footprint rights to some programming, execs there have stressed that the economics of a pure OTT TV service don’t add up.

Pricing and Packaging for Xfinity Instant TV
At about $18 per month, the core Xfinity Instant TV package includes live and VOD content from ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, Unimas, Univision, as well as all PEG channels, and a cloud DVR with 20 hours of storage.

Premium add-ons currently include HBO ($15 per month) and Starz ($12 per month), or Comcast’s own Streampix service ($4.99 per month).

Add on packages include:

-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, TVOne, USA, and VH1.

-Sports and News ($30 per month, and includes up to $5 RSN fee): 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).

-Latino ($5 per month): BabyFirst, CNN en Español, Cine Dinamita, Cine Latino, Cine Mexicano, Cine Sony Television, Discovery Familia, Discovery en Español, Galavisión, History en Español, Pasiones, Viendo Movies, Vme Kids.  

-Deportes ($7 per month): beIN, beINñ, ESPN Deportes, Fox Deportes, LAS, NBCUniverso, and Univision Deportes.