Comcast is announcing this morning that it will allow subscribers to stream live programs to their iPads or Android tablets later this year (no definite time disclosed). While the caveat is that only in-home usage will only be permitted, the benefits are still meaningful. For instance, subscribers who were paying for (or considering paying for) additional outlets in 2nd and 3rd rooms, which are only casually used, could now save money by not taking service in those rooms and using their iPads instead.
Further, subscribers can now watch in rooms that possibly didn't even have a TV. I'm familiar with this example, as I've used my iPad to watch Netflix content in various areas of my house that don't have TVs or cable service. Presumably the roadmap calls for out-of-home viewing as well, giving it full Sling-like benefits (at no additional cost). That would provide even more value to tablet owners.
In addition, Comcast also announced that "play now" functionality in the company's Xfinity TV iPad app would be enabled in the coming weeks. That's a positive step, as the initial app, while offering great navigation, fell short in the critical area of actually allowing users to watch the programs they found. Comcast said that the Xfinity TV app would initially have 3,000 hours of on-demand content (no live) and can be viewed either in or out of home. Beefing up the amount of content available is a critical next step.
These are the kinds of moves that pay-TV operators should all be making. Learning to extend pay-TV services to devices like iPads and other tablets, plus smartphones and other devices, is customer-friendly, brings new value and flexibility and also helps improve the perception of these companies. And to the extent that Comcast chooses not to charge extra for these features means it is raising the competitive bar on over-the-top competitors. While the cord-cutting battle rages on, 2011 could be a big year for incumbent pay-TV operators to fight back.
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