• Comcast Releases Beta of Xfinity TV App for Roku

    Comcast has announced that its Xfinity TV app is now available for beta use on certain Roku streaming devices and Roku TVs, with broad rollout planned for later this year. The partnership was initially unveiled in April, 2016. The Xfinity app for Roku is the first deployment of the Xfinity TV Partner Program, which Samsung also joined.

    The “TV as an app” model means that Comcast subscribers will be able to get full access to linear and on-demand content plus DVR functionality via Roku, without having to take a Comcast set-top box, a first for the cable company. Comcast has positioned the Xfinity TV app on connected devices as beneficial for subscribers who want choices in how they access their subscriptions. The screen shot below shows a clean implementation reminiscent of what Comcast X1 users already see.

    While there have been other connected device trials (e.g. Time Warner Cable and Roku), plus CableCard-enabled approaches allowing access on other devices (e.g. TiVo), the Comcast-Roku integration is noteworthy for a few reasons:

    - It’s clearly more than a trial and both companies seem fully committed to it. With millions of Rokus installed, there’s a large addressable base of users who could switch to this option.

    - It’s occurring even as Comcast is investing heavily in its own X1 set-top box, which has been instrumental in driving video subscriber growth.

    - It will actually save subscribers money when launched by allowing avoidance of primary TV set-top rental charges (X1 is $10/month) and receiving a $2.50/month credit for using their own equipment on their primary outlet, consistent with current approach. However, for secondary outlets, the plan is to still charge $9.95/month per secondary outlet, which will be reduced by the $2.50/mo credit, resulting in a smaller cost savings. (updated from original)

    - It addresses former FCC chair Tom Wheeler’s “Unlock the Set-Top Box” initiative to bring more competition to the TV. While new FCC chair Ajit Pai back-burnered the project just yesterday, the Xfinity app on Roku provides regulators with meaningful evidence that the industry itself is opening up access to its services on third-party devices.

    Another interesting angle to consider here is how search and discovery will now work in Roku. In particular, will Comcast be giving Roku full access to its program data so that Roku can index and therefore present in response to users’ search inquiries? Roku has been actively building out this capability, saying last fall it was indexing 100+ OTT channels, including Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, HBO, Showtime, VUDU, etc.

    This matters because, with TV shows and specific seasons fragmented over SVOD, AVOD and pay-TV, it can be extremely confusing to viewers where to gain access. With Comcast’s integration of Netflix into X1, I showed how beneficial search that incorporates Netflix and Comcast results can be. But if Roku can do this for all of Comcast’s lineup, plus a gamut of OTT channels, that would be even better. Roku users who are Comcast subscribers will soon have a decision to make, whether to simply access Comcast service via their Roku. Better cross-service discovery could certainly influence their decision-making.

    Yet another aspect to consider is that the Xfinity app on Roku could be the model for a nationwide rollout of a full Comcast OTT service. The company has long resisted the prospect of it competing in non-franchise areas, but with the launches of nationwide skinny bundles from Sling TV, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue and soon Hulu and YouTube, the temptation to play at a national level will increase. Comcast’s planned mid-year launch of a wireless service (which would also benefit from nationwide ubiquity), makes a broader OTT offering even more compelling.

    I’m eager to give the new Xfinity app a try on my Roku and will report back on my experience. If it lives up to expectations, it will be yet another data point of how the once hard line distinguishing pay-TV from apps, devices and OTT services is continuing to blur.

    More information about the beta program is here.

    (Note: Comcast Technology Solutions is a VideoNuze sponsor.)