Comcast has announced a new $15/month online video service called Stream, offering yet another choice to consumers not interested in the full multichannel TV bundle.
Stream will be available only to Comcast’s broadband subscribers on a no-commitment, monthly basis, with no equipment required. Stream will include broadcast networks and HBO plus Streampix and a cloud DVR. It will be available only on laptops, tablets and smartphones, so no TV access. And the linear feeds will only be available in-home, though it sounds like recordings will be viewable out of home. Stream will debut in Boston in late summer, then Seattle and Chicago later this year and elsewhere in 2016.
While Stream is another “skinny” bundle - offering fewer channels at a lower price - it differs markedly with Sling TV, for example, by emphasizing broadcast, not cable channels. By comparison, Sling TV’s biggest calling card is unbundled access to ESPN as well as a number of other cable networks. Like Sling TV however, according to a NY Times report, Comcast may offer optional $5-10/month add-on packages.
Stepping back, Stream seems like a bet that access to broadcast TV is a big draw for cord-cutters and cord-nevers, particularly since HBO Now is available as a standalone service for $15/month. Even despite declines in linear ratings and ongoing fragmentation, broadcast still gets the biggest entertainment audiences. When I reviewed SlingTV, I argued that the absence of broadcast TV networks was a glaring hole.
In fact, if you strip away HBO and Streampix, Stream is actually closest to Aereo as a product (although a key difference is that Comcast is paying for the broadcast channels, whereas Aereo didn’t). Like Aereo, Stream also bumps into Hulu, which, despite lots of new content deals, is still primarily about online access to broadcast TV.
It’s an open question just how many cord-cutters and cord-nevers will be compelled by Stream. But it’s clearly a step forward for Comcast to be testing the waters with Stream, offering a flexible alternative to the expensive multichannel bundle which is in decline. For Comcast’s broadband subscribers, it’s also a new alternative that could better align their viewing patterns with their spending. We'll see.