Comcast Bows ‘XClass TV’ Operating System

Comcast Oct. 19 announced the launch of XClass TV, the cable giant’s proprietary operating system affording third-party television manufacturers direct access to NBCUniversal and third-party content.

For the first time, Comcast is making its entertainment and voice platform available direct to consumers across the U.S., without an Xfinity subscription, both inside and outside of Comcast’s service areas.

Comcast is partnering with China’s Hisense to offer consumers an innovative smart-TV with an integrated interface and voice remote to access live and on-demand streaming content from myriad apps and services. The first run of Hisense XClass TVs are available this week in select Walmart stores and in the coming weeks through Walmart.com.

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The operating system is the same technology Comcast employs for its proprietary Xfinity X1, Xfinity Flex, Sky Glass and Sky Q platforms catering to 75 million Comcast entertainment and connectivity devices. The OS integrates streaming, on-demand, broadcast and cable options in one place under unified voice search, discovery, apps and interactive features. It offers customers intuitive navigation across thousands of apps, movies, shows and sports with a simple voice command or remote click.

“Hisense XClass TVs are the next products in a growing portfolio built on our flexible and scalable technology platform, bringing the best innovative products — whether that’s a streaming box or a smart-TV — to each territory and customer segment,” Sam Schwartz, chief business development officer at Comcast, said in a statement.

Hisense XClass TVs are available in 43-inch and 50-inch 4K Ultra HD models. The televisions include a voice remote powered by Comcast’s Emmy-award winning voice technology. Alongside the simple and intuitive user experience, Hisense XClass TVs support leading technologies including Dolby Vision HDR, which delivers a more vivid, lifelike image. Hisense XClass TVs also support HDR10 and can enable the pass-through of Dolby Atmos from compatible content sources when the TV is connected to a compatible audio device.

Redbox Partners With Comcast’s FreeWheel Digital Ad Platform

Redbox Oct. 4 announced it is partnering with FreeWheel, the Comcast-owned facilitator for digital advertising. Through this technology, Redbox claims advertisers will be able to more easily access and buy its content inventory — both nationally and locally — and target specific audiences.

Redbox offers two free streaming options — AVOD, which contains thousands of free movies, and free ad-supported television (FAST), which features more than 100 free channels. The company has been rapidly expanding both areas through content deals with studios and networks.

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As Redbox focuses on continuing to expand to local markets nationwide, FreeWheel’s partnership across the ecosystem will enable advertisers, demand side platforms (DSPs), and buyside systems to easily access Redbox inventory with scale and simplicity.

“As we continue to ramp efforts in the free streaming space, we knew FreeWheel would accelerate our advertising capabilities and allow advertisers to easily micro-target viewers across all our streaming platforms,” Jason Kwong, chief strategy and digital officer at Redbox, said in a statement. We’re excited to partner with them and to further grow our business.”

“Redbox has put a lot of focus on their growing advertising business, and with that comes the need to monetize their vast amount of inventory,” said Dave Clark, General Manager of FreeWheel. “We are thrilled to be working with the team at Redbox to scale their national advertising footprint across local markets, as well as facilitating unique local demand in ways that work best for their business. As FreeWheel continues to expand our focus and enable better connection across the ecosystem, Redbox is an ideal partner.”

Comcast’s AVOD Service Xumo Streaming Ad-Free Movies

Xumo, Comcast’s ad-supported video streaming service, has launched a weekly series of ad-free catalog movies. Irvine, Calif.-based Xumo, which claims 24 million monthly average users, Oct. 4 made available the 2016 movie Miss Stevens, starring Timothée Chalamet‎ and Lily Rabe, among others. Future releases include Hero, the Halloween-themed Marrowbone and We Need To Talk About Kevin.

Comcast reportedly tested the ad-free movie concept in August to its Xfinity X1 platform subscribers and saw an uptick in Xumo usage. The media giant acquired the AVOD platform in February 2020.

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“As an AVOD industry first, we’re excited to bring Xumo’s Ad-Free Movie of the Week to millions of users across all of our Xumo owned and operated properties,” Fern Feistel, SVP of content operations and marketing at Xumo, said in a statement. “Not only are we delighting our audience, this is already proven to be a significant driver of retention as we continue to test new experiences.”

Brian Roberts: Comcast is ‘Really a Broadband Company’

Comcast has quietly become the top provider of high-speed Internet, or broadband connectivity in the United States (and globally), with 33 million customers and 31 million monthly subscribers.

Broadband is the lifeline for distribution of over-the-top video into consumer homes, including for SVOD services such as Peacock, Netflix, Disney+, Hulu, HBO Max and Amazon Prime Video.

Speaking Sept. 22 at the virtual Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference, Comcast chairman/CEO Brian Roberts said the company has been adding about 1 million broadband subscribers a year over the past 20 years — greatly offsetting ongoing declines in legacy cable TV subs.

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“It’s a fantastic, well-sized business,” Roberts said. “So, we’re really a broadband company. That’s the shift that occurred over those 20 years.”

The executive said the goal is to “deepen” those broadband relationships through enhanced connectivity, free voice-based remote navigation of streaming video or less expensive access to Xfinity Mobile telecommunications.

To further accelerate broadband adoption domestically and in Europe through its Sky satellite TV subsidiary, Comcast just announced the launch of XiOne, new global wireless streaming device aimed at competing against Roku, Amazon Fire TV and Google Chromecast, among others.

“We’re building a [broadband] company we believe is sustainable, growing residential [subscribers] and business services and is second to none,” Roberts said.

The executive said the evolution of high-speed Internet over the past 10 years has moved beyond basic connectivity to delivering data across business, entertainment and educational segments.

“Ten years from today, I believe broadband will be just as unrecognizable,” Roberts said. “If you had to place a bet, you’d probably say it would probably happen faster, not slower than the pace of change the last 10 years before that.”

He said the ongoing rollout of xFi Pods affords Comcast households “wall-to-wall Wi-Fi” connectivity and more than 1 billion devices nationwide. Subscribers are also able to “pause” their Wi-Fi, in effect not being charged for unused data. Future enhancements include text messages to customers alerting them how to improve connectivity for household products, including stationary exercise devices.

“I think that positions our company as a leader in broadband, in an enviable place,” Roberts said. “It plays to our strengths, and I hope will lead the way as we invest in our network and develop these newer applications.”

Comcast Bows XiOne — A New 4K, Wi-Fi 6 Global Streaming Video Device

In a swipe at Roku, Amazon Fire TV and others, Comcast Sept. 22 announced the launch of the XiOne, a new global wireless streaming device currently available in Italy and Germany to Sky Q customers and beginning its rollout in the United States to Xfinity Flex subscribers. In Europe, the XiOne enables the first delivery of video services over IP for Sky customers.

The XiOne is the first Comcast-connected streaming device that will be made available to all its global customers across company’s Xfinity and Sky operations, and to its syndication partners.

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The XiOne is a plug-and-play device that claims faster processing and increased memory for proprietary and third-party apps. The device supports WiFi 6, 4K UHD, HDR, Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos, and comes with a new simpler and smaller voice remote designed with streamers in mind.

“When Sky joined the Comcast family, we brought together our engineers to share insights, roadmaps, talent, and technology to support our global customers,” Charlie Herrin, president of technology at Comcast, said in a statement. The launch of our new XiOne device is a direct result of these efforts.”

Comcast plans to make the device available across more channels and to its Xfinity X1 customers and syndication partners in the future.

Comcast to Launch Branded ‘XClass TV’ Models Made by China’s Hisense

Comcast is getting into the television business. The media giant has quietly began laying the groundwork for the rollout of a line of broadband branded high-definition televisions manufactured by China’s Hisense.

Dubbed “XClass TV,” the initial units come in 43-inch and 50-inch screen sizes powered by the cable giant’s X1 operating system with ultra high-definition (UHD) picture resolution — relatively small in today’s mega-screen market — according to the device’s landing page.

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“XClass TV smart TV that brings all your favorite apps, live channels, and On Demand movies and shows together in one place. XClass TV works gives you thousands of free movies, shows, music and more,” reads the the page.

While there has been no official announcement, Comcast is following in the footsteps of Roku, which was the first U.S. streaming media company to partner with Chinese manufacturers launching branded televisions. Amazon just announced the launch of its own line of branded self-manufactured TVs.

Previous media reports say Comcast would market the XClass TVs through Walmart. Regardless, the move is noteworthy considering the TVs would be marketed to consumers outside Comcast’s pay-TV.

“We’re looking at smart TVs on a global basis, and we’re wondering: Can we bring our tech stack, or certain capabilities in aggregation, to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs?,” Comcast Chairman Brian Roberts told an investor group in 2020.

Indeed, in addition to a free year subscription to Peacock, the televisions come equipped with myriad third-party apps (Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video, Disney+, HBO Max, Showtime and Paramount+) preloaded, plus free movies through NBCUniversal-owned Vudu, and ad-free FAST platforms Xumo, Pluto TV and Tubi.

The TVs will also have access to music, playlists, and podcasts from Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, in addition to live broadcasts from iHeart Radio.

The XClass TV will include access to Premier League soccer from the U.K. on Peacock and Spain’s La Liga, and the PGA Tour on Xumo. Plus, access to highlight reels and must-watch moments on YouTube.

Comcast CFO: Splitting Universal’s Pay 1 Window With Rival Streamers More Profitable

Universal Pictures’ decision to split the 18-month Pay 1 window between its sister Peacock streaming service, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video is generating more revenue than prior post-theatrical/retail home entertainment iterations, Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh told an investor group.

Speaking Sept. 14 at the virtual Banc of America Securities 2021 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference, Cavanagh said the decision to incorporate Peacock rivals in the Pay 1 window underscores NBCUniversal’s singular approach to movie distribution in the digital age.

Comcast CFO Michael Cavanagh

“Our road to streaming is going to be our own road,” Cavanagh said. “We’ll do what makes sense to us.”

In addition to feeding the growing Peacock asset and mining incremental revenue through premium VOD with original studio movies on an accelerated timeline, Universal has revenue-sharing agreements with AMC Theatres and Regal that allow it to release titles into digital retail channels as early as 17 days after their box office debut, depending upon opening weekend ticket sales.

Universal earlier this month announced it would release horror movie Halloween Kills, the sequel to the 2018 reboot that re-introduced Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise, in theaters and on the Peacock on Oct. 15.

“We are firm believers that theatrical is important, but innovation around windowing is going to be part of what makes us successful over time,” Cavanagh said.

After Peacock’s exclusive four-month Pay 1 window, Netflix and Amazon split separate four-month periods followed by a four-month return to Peacock.

“The monies we received from third parties for that 18-month window — despite the fact we are keeping the first four months of that window — is actually more than what it had been prior to this new deal that we did,” Cavanagh said.

He said the strategy enables Universal to better leverage its theatrical content through Peacock while enabling competitive channels to mine incremental fiscal benefits for the studio.

“We think it is a long-term opportunity for us to keep the asset in our own libraries, while also giving us optionality for down the road,” Cavanagh said. “I think we served a lot of our different strategic purposes in the new windowing we did.”

Documentary+ Streaming Platform Joins Comcast’s Xumo Network

Documentary+, the streaming video platform of nonfiction films and series, is joining Xumo’s expanding library of 200+ premium ad-supported channels reaching more than 24 million unique users each month.

Documentary+ launched as an AVOD streaming service in January featuring an extensive library housing titles, including Anthony Bourdain’s A Cook’s Tour and VICE’s JungletownSluteverThe Last Shot and films from award-winning filmmakers such as Spike Jonze, Kathryn Bigelow, Penny Lane, Elaine May, Jessica Beshir, Terrence Malick, Werner Herzog and Sam Pollard, with The Imposter, Cartel Land, and Life, Animated to name a few

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The Documentary+ channel on Xumo will feature 24/7 curated content from feature documentaries to cult classics and shorts and series, providing XUMO audiences access to their premium library of documentaries. Launching first on XUMO, the Documentary+ channel will be available on more FAST platforms soon, further expanding the platform’s streaming presence.

“With Xumo we can reach big new audiences and give our fans a 24/7 experience to watch the best in documentary film and television,” founder/CEO Bryn Mooser said in a statement.

Comcast-owned Xumo is available via a multi-screen distribution network of smart TVs, mobile, Web and popular streaming boxes. The Documentary+ on-demand streaming app is available globally for free on all streaming platforms including Apple TV, Amazon and Roku, mobile devices and www.docplus.com.

“The Documentary+ channel will engage millions of Xumo users with its extensive range of premium documentary films and series,” said Stefan Van Engen, SVP of content partnerships and programming at the Irvine, Calif.-based platform. “[We continue] to partner with best-in-class content providers and this new offering from Documentary+ is no exception.”

IMDb TV Lands First Pay-TV Partner: Comcast’s Xfinity Flex and X1

IMDb TV, Amazon’s ad-supported streaming service, Aug. 17 announced that its app is now available on Comcast’s Xfinity Flex and Xfinity X1. The launch on X1 marks IMDb TV’s first pay-TV partner, and expands Comcast’s embrace of competing digital platforms.

IMDb TV features originals from the award-winning Amazon Studios, including the recently launched docuseries “Luke Bryan: My Dirt Road Diary” and heist drama Leverage: Redemption, and the upcoming dramedy Pretty Hard Cases, premiering Sept 10.

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The free streaming service also features an extensive and updating library of movies and television shows, including “Chicago Fire,” “All in the Family,” The Hunger Games and How to Train Your Dragon, among others.

The expanded distribution follows IMDb TV app launches this year on Roku, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, LG Smart TVs (2018-21 models), PlayStation 4 consoles as well as Chromecast with Google TV, NVIDIA SHIELD and other Android TV devices. Earlier this month, the IMDb TV app launched on iPhone, iPad and Android mobile devices in the United States.

In addition to third-party devices, IMDb TV is available as an app on Fire TV and a free Channel within the Prime Video app across hundreds of devices.

Tokyo Olympics Lowest-Rated Games Ever Since NBC Acquired Rights

The delayed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics proved to be a winner for Team USA, but not necessarily in the TV ratings competition. A day after the closing ceremony, NBCUniversal disclosed the Games averaged about 15.5 million primetime TV viewers over the course of 17-day broadcast period. The tally was 42% lower than the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Summer Olympics (26.7 million viewers) and 2012 London Olympics (31.1 million), and the lowest since NBC acquired the North American rights in 1988.

For NBCU, the ratings are not surprising considering the year-long delay of the 32nd Olympiad due to the pandemic, low approval among many Japanese for the quadrennial event to be held this year, and a general decline in broadcast television consumption. The media company reiterated that the games will be profitable despite the pandemic.

“When you look at the numbers in general and the impact that COVID has had on sports, we were prepared for these numbers,” Pete Bevacqua, chairman of NBC Sports, told The Wall Street Journal. “For better or worse, I really do believe the pandemic and postponement impacted these games.”

Separately, media measurement company TAD (Total Audience Delivery), reported that the ratings included streaming service Peacock, which featured the most Olympics events ever on an over-the-top video platform. When including streaming, top-rated days included Day 2 (July 25) with 20 million viewers; Day 6 (July 29) with 19.5 million, and Day 11 (July 27) with 17.4 million.