Monday, November 7, 2016, 8:32 AM ET|Posted by Will Richmond
Comcast announced on Friday that the integration of Netflix into its X1 set-top box would launch this week. But when I checked my X1 on Friday evening it was already available, so I spent some time over the weekend giving it a test drive. Below is a 12-minute demo video I created that highlights the key benefits of the integration and how expertly it was done.
As VideoNuze readers know, I’ve had the X1 since its debut, back in July, 2012. I was immediately enthusiastic about its clean and highly responsive web-like UI as well as its ability to quickly retrieve on-demand content. More recently, the voice-powered remote control has delivered even more value. But the biggest potential benefit I’ve always envisioned for X1 was its ability to handle IP apps, giving Comcast a breakthrough way to provide a seamless experience between its own video services and those delivered over-the-top via broadband (e.g. Netflix, Amazon, YouTube, etc.).
I’ve been beating this drum steadily over the years and Comcast’s implementation of the NBC Olympics app gave solid glimpses of how X1 would be able to handle multi-stream apps. More specifically, in “Why the Timing is Now Perfect for a Netflix-Comcast Partner Deal” in October, 2014, I laid out all the compelling reasons why Comcast incorporating Netflix into its X1 experience would be a big win for both companies, and most importantly, for their respective subscribers.
Now, with the integration done, the benefits are on full display. First and foremost, for joint Comcast X1 and Netflix subscribers, there is no longer a need for a connected TV device, which means no more switching inputs and using different remote controls and different UIs. The entire Netflix catalog is now available in X1 and accessing content is on even terms with all Comcast content. As the demo below shows, Netflix content can be accessed within the Netflix app or searched via X1’s text or voice-based search. Either way, results come back quickly and are well-displayed.
A particular highlight is the comprehensive search results for programs that have currently airing seasons on linear TV networks and ALSO have past season episodes on Netflix. In the demo I show how this works for both “The Walking Dead” and for “The Blacklist.” Current episodes are displayed at the top, but it’s just as simple to find the season 1 pilot and start there. This means a viewer could - if they had the time - literally binge-watch from the first episode through to last night’s episode, all from one unified experience. This is a massive step forward from the days of only the most-recent 5 episodes being available on-demand.
Another nice feature that’s always been available in X1, but which now extends to Netflix content as well, is search by actor. As I show in the demo, a search for “Kevin Spacey” brings up 57 results, with “House of Cards” first and then followed by movies that appear on TNT, Starz and HBO. I really like how Comcast prioritized the viewer, by listing the highest-profile Spacey program first, even through it’s on Netflix, rather than something from one of the networks it carries. It’s a simple thing, but it will delight viewers.
X1 has been instrumental in driving Comcast’s video subscriber growth over the past year plus, in the face of persistent cord-cutting threats. X1 is now in 45% of Comcast’s subscribers’ homes and it is clearly a differentiator vs. competing satellite and telco video services. Given the high likelihood that many of X1’s nearly 10 million current users are also Netflix subscribers, the integration benefit will be immediate and X1 retention will further improve.
On top of this, Comcast will no doubt leverage Netflix’s much-loved brand in its X1 promotions to drive new subscriber acquisitions and X1 conversions. X1 is a game-changer because operators that cannot support Netflix-style integrations, or are consumed with unwieldy corporate integrations, such as AT&T will be with Time Warner, are simply going to fall behind.
For Netflix, the X1 integration is also a huge win. With nearly 50 million domestic subscribers, Netflix’s quarterly growth in the U.S. has steadily decelerated. Netflix now needs to penetrate later adopters, for whom setting up a connected TV might have been intimidating. Now, with the integrated X1 experience, that complication has been removed.
Depending on how things are structured between the companies, Netflix stands to benefit from Comcast’s promotions as well. And without question, the X1 implementation will ratchet up pressure on other pay-TV operators to also integrate Netflix. This could spark a snowball effect, which could finally give Netflix momentum with U.S. pay-TV operators, that Netflix has courted without much success to date.
But as I wrote when the integration was first announced in July, the biggest winners here are the joint viewers. In a video landscape that is increasingly fragmented, yet burgeoning with more great programs than ever to watch, viewers’ lives have become quite complicated. Trying to figure out what device to have, where to find a desired program and how much to budget for SVOD have all created new headaches for an experience that is supposed to be relaxing and entertaining. Despite relentless industry hype, smart integrations that simplify experiences and deliver real value like Comcast-Netflix have been in short supply.
While the prevailing media narrative for years has been that a zero-sum battle between pay-TV and SVOD will fuel cord-cutting, the Comcast-Netflix integration shows that even companies that have been sharply at odds for years can find a more enlightened win-win path. Here’s to hoping we see more of this in the future.