Since Comcast announced its plan to acquire Time Warner Cable, there have been a number of articles about how broadband is really the main driver of the deal. No doubt broadband is very important, but Comcast still believes there's a lot of life left in its video service. To that end, the company has invested heavily in its X1 set-top box platform.
X1 is a hybrid box, delivering video via traditional "QAM" technology, while including a guide and other interactivity/content via web-based IP technology. Comcast said that X1 played a significant role in Comcast adding subscribers in Q4 '13, for the first time in 6+ years.
I've had an X1 since July, 2012, and to give a sense of its potential, I've shot an 11-minute demo of how X1 handles the NBC Olympics "Live Extra" authenticated app which is tightly integrated with its Xfinity on Demand service for highlights. First, for a little context, I show how "Live Extra" and the NBC Olympics apps work on an iPad.
As I think you'll agree, X1's Olympics experience is pretty impressive by comparison - fast and intuitive, if not quite as comprehensive as the mobile app. Comcast has been relatively reticent about how apps will be integrated with X1. One question sure to be asked in the TWC regulatory review is Comcast's attitude toward including other video apps like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube and others. Netflix, for one, has been pushing for these types of deals where its app would be included in the set-top, and for now Comcast has only said it's not a priority.
In the meantime, however, as Comcast continues to deploy its X1 set-tops, it's building a large base of subscribers who will be able to get converged TV/web experiences. And to the extent that other operators, like TWC and Cox also adopt X1, it could gain an even wider footprint. So next time you read something about pay-TV operators thinking there's no future in video or that there's a lack of innovation, keep in mind Comcast thinks the opposite and is investing a huge amount to drive its vision of a converged future.