Comcast Adds Free VOD, SVOD Access to Xfinity, Flex Platforms

Citing an increase of in-home viewing due to social distancing and the coronavirus, Comcast March 25 announced that it has made the VOD catalogs from a series of premium networks and SVOD services available to its Xfinity X1 and Flex customers for free for 30 days — beginning with Showtime, Epix, CuriosityStream, History Vault, Grokker Yoga Fitness & Wellbeing, The Reading Corner and DogTV.

“This is an unprecedented time and we want to be there for our customers to help make the time they’re spending at home easier with free previews from our network, studio and streaming partners,” Rebecca Heap, SVP of video & entertainment at Comcast Cable, said in a statement.

X1 and Flex subs can access the free programming with their voice remote, which spans kids educational content, fitness, and TV & movies.

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Showtime programming includes back episodes of “Billions,” “Homeland,” “Shameless,” “City on a Hill” and “Kidding.”

Epix includes a full catalog of thousands of movies, along with acclaimed original series, such as “Godfather of Harlem,” “Pennyworth,” “War of the Worlds” and “Belgravia,” premiering April 12.

CuriosityStream includes 60 days free of documentaries and series on science, history, wildlife, adventure and travel, including “Ancient Earth” and “The History of Food.”

The whole family is covered with 30 days free of programs for dogs, as well as dog-related programs for all dog lovers with DogTV. Grokker Yoga Fitness & Wellbeing features 30 days free of expert-led video classes in fitness, yoga, meditation and healthy cooking.

History Vault includes 30 days of classic series, documentaries and
specials. From series like Modern Marvels to specials about ancient cultures, HISTORY Vault is the one-stop destination for exploring the past, present and future.

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Kids Room features 30 days free of a wide selection of popular series filled with stories and beloved characters. Popular children’s series, include “Bob the Builder,” “Polly Pocket” and “Strawberry Shortcake.”

The Great Courses Signature Collection includes 30 days free of engaging and educational video lectures from the world’s greatest professors; hundreds of subjects to learn; from photography to psychology, guitar to genetics, or mindful health to a vast exploration of history.

The Reading Corner features 30 days free of reading videos on themes such as spring, holiday, school and nature. For children up to 10 years old. Stories include “Donuts: The Hole Story,” “This Is a Book Full of Monsters” and “Beauty and the Beast.”

Xfinity said it plans to open up more preview content from dozens of new networks, studios and streaming partners on a rolling basis over the coming weeks.

In addition, Comcast has undertaken a comprehensive COVID-19 response inclusive of opening Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots across the country to anyone who needs them for free (including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers), pausing data plans, creating a COVID-19 news destination on X1 and Flex, and making its Internet Essentials program free for new families for the first 60 days of enrollment.

Comcast Ups Focus on Broadband, Less on Video

Comcast may be the nation’s No. 1 cable operator, but doesn’t mean pay-TV remains the company’s primary focus.

Speaking Dec. 9 at the UBS Global TMT Conference in New York City, CFO Brian Cavanagh said ongoing changes in the linear TV market and consumer migration to over-the-top video have resulted in changing corporate priorities.

“We are well in-stride on the idea that yes, video is important,” he said. “We make money in video. And it’s important to our customers, our legacy and investments we’ve made to X1.”

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At the same time, Cavanagh said that while Comcast remains well-positioned to provide video through the traditional cable bundle, given the rise in streaming video, he said the company would stop attempting to provide the “full video experience” across the board and expect to make money doing so.

Comcast has lost more than 500,000 pay-TV subscribers this year.

“We want to give customers choices,” Cavanagh said. “We’re not going to chance unprofitable relationships, but rather give consumers choices where we maximize what we perceive the lifetime value of the relationship is to us.”

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In other words, Comcast will no longer market expensive pay-TV bundles to consumers distracted by loss-leading OTT services such as Netflix, Disney+ and Hulu.

Comcast CFO Brian Cavanagh

Indeed, as Comcast Cable continues to hemorrhage pay-TV subs, the company is focusing on broadband as one of the nation’s largest ISPs.

Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers in the most-recent fiscal period, up 13.4% from 334,000 net broadband additions in the previous-year period.

“The focus is always going to be broadband,” Cavanagh said. “And that might not have been what we said five years ago. It’s about attaching products where you can make incremental money and/or add stickiness.”

The CFO said pay-TV churn (subs renewing service) is under control in markets where the cloud-based X1 is deployed. But the company’s goal of having a video product in every household has changed.

“Customer satisfaction goes up if you give them the product they actually want. And broadband [not pay-TV] is that in all cases,” Cavanagh said.

TiVo ‘Wins’ Another Round in Comcast Patent Dispute

TiVo June 4 received a favorable ruling by Administrative Law Judge MaryJoan McNamara of the International Trade Commission (ITC) that select aspects of Comcast’s cloud-based X1 video platform infringe Rovi’s patents.

Rovi, which acquired DVR pioneer TiVo in 2016 for $1.1 billion, operates under the TiVo brand name.

TiVo has a worldwide portfolio of over 5,500 patents. Patents involve advertising, analytics, DVR, guide, search and record, interactive TV and apps, AR/VR, multi-screen, parental controls, VOD/OTT, social media, sports, personalization and voice.

This was the second positive ruling for TiVo. In November 2017, the ITC issued a final ruling that Comcast had infringed two Rovi patents around ‘remote record’ functionality.

Comcast subsequently removed this feature from their products, according to TiVo.

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Then on May 23, the ITC launched a third investigation into Comcast for infringing six Rovi patents including: X1 Sports App, multi-room DVR features, and set-top box integrations of apps like Netflix.

That query has also been assigned to McNamara.

“We are thrilled by yet another legal victory,” Arvin Patel, EVP and chief intellectual property officer at Rovi, said in a statement. “We hope that today’s decision will encourage Comcast to pay the necessary licensing fees so their customers can once again access advanced cable features.”

That may be wishful thinking.

McNamara’s ruling is just one required step before the ITC can mandate Comcast make additional changes or pay license fees to TiVo – which the latter would prefer.

The cable behemoth contends TiVo’s technology is outdated and has instituted proprietary technology in the X1 platform.

In a statement, Comcast viewed McNamara’s decision a victory since the judge found “no violation” regarding two of the three other patents involved in the complaint.

“We look forward to the full commission’s review of the one remaining patent later this year, but we are confident, regardless, this ruling will not disrupt our service to our customers,” Comcast said. “We will continue to resist Rovi’s efforts to force Comcast and our customers to make unreasonable payments for aging and obsolete patents.”

 

Comcast Ending ‘Xfinity On Demand’ Access for TiVo Users

Comcast Cable reportedly is set to end access to its “Xfinity On Demand” app for TiVo devices, effective June 25.

In an email to subscribers — first reported by tech blogger Dave Zatz — Comcast said “out of date [TiVo] technology that cannot be upgraded or updated” was the reason for pending non-access.

Comcast said the shutdown would not affect recorded programming, and access to Xfinity Stream would still be available on Apple iOS, Android Xfinity apps and Xfinity website.

“VOD is also available on TiVo through Hulu, Amazon Prime Video and Vudu apps,” read the message.

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The pending shutdown comes as TiVo and Comcast remain embroiled in tech royalty disputes. The DVR pioneer in April appealed to International Trade Commission and filed litigation against Comcast alleging patent infringement on technology related to streaming video and cloud-based DVR.

TiVo, which is splitting into two separate companies focusing on patents and hardware, in 2017 received ITC backing for a complaint involving remote time-shifting functionality on Comcast’s X1 set-top devices.

It filed litigation against Comcast in April in U.S. District Court in California.

“We believe Comcast’s Xfinity X1 continues to infringe Rovi’s cloud and multi-room DVR patents – a vital component of home entertainment,” Arvin Patel, EVP and CIPO at Rovi,” said in a statement.

Rovi, which acquired TiVo in 2016 for $1.1 billion and assumed the latter’s brand name for the merged companies, claims to have invested over a billion dollars into its patent portfolio and products.

“We are extremely proud of our patent portfolio of over 1,000 issued patents in the US.,” Patel said.

Comcast, which launched much of its cloud-based X1 features via TiVo technology, claims it has developed its own tech and that most TiVo patents in question are outdated.

Cinedigm’s CONtv, Docurama Available on Comcast’s Xfinity Service

Cinedigm April 26 announced that its subscription video-on-demand services CONtv and Docurama are now available on Comcast’s cloud-based Xfinity X1 platform.

X1 subs can stream CONtv’s roster of classic cult films and forgotten series, and Docurama’s library of award-winning documentaries directly on their televisions. The two Cinedigm properties follow faith-based network The Dove Channel, which launched on X1 last year.

CONtv and Docurama can be added to X1 customers’ service for $4.99 and $2.99 per month respectively, and Internet-only customers can also subscribe via Xfinity Flex.

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This month, X1 customers can enjoy CONtv’s newest additions such as childhood classics “Where on Earth is Carmen San Diego” and “Angela Anaconda,” as well as the art tutorial “The Joy of Painting” with Bob Ross, the sword-and-sorcery Arthur & Merlin, and Selena Gomez in the 2014 rock n’ roll comedy Behaving Badly.

Curated by the industry’s top experts and critics, Docurama delivers hundreds of hours of acclaimed documentaries suited to viewers of all tastes—boasting a content roster covering everything from personal profiles, sports, and music, to hard-hitting political exposés and insightful interviews.

“These launches further our commitment to redefining the traditional viewing experience and provide even more viewers across the country with the same programming that our networks are known for — appealing to viewers of all tastes, whether they’re sci-fi enthusiasts or looking for something a little more down-to-earth,” Erick Opeka, president of Cinedigm Digital Networks, said in a statement.

Comcast Disputes Media Report It Favors Roku Over Proprietary Streaming App

Comcast Feb. 4 issued a statement disputing an online media report that it plans to scrap development of a proprietary streaming app in favor of using Roku technology.

A report in BestAppleTV.com claimed Comcast Cable would bypass Apple TV as well as the tvOS app platform in development in favor of a Roku-designed smart box – similar to one manufactured by Roku for Sky-owned Now TV in the United Kingdom.

Comcast Corp. acquired Sky last year for $39 billion.

Media Play News reported Jan. 25 that Now TV, which was one of Roku’s first OEM clients for streaming media devices, including USB stick technology, is the third-largest OTT video service in the U.K. behind market leader Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

Steve Burke, CEO of NBC Universal, appeared to underscore the move when he said Comcast’s pending AVOD service would incorporate Now TV technology and represented a good alternative for consumers not tethered to pay-TV/SVOD, while posing less of a risk in start-up costs.

“We think this approach has a much better chance to get scale quickly,” Burke said on the fiscal call.

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In a statement, Comcast said the BestAppleTV.com story contained “numerous inaccuracies” and “wrongly conflates” individual business dealings and relationships from Sky, NBC Universal and Comcast Cable.

“To be clear, Comcast Cable is deeply invested in development and innovation of its flagship whole-home platform, Xfinity X1, that is changing the way millions of people watch TV and manage the connected home,” wrote the cabler with 21 million subscribers.

Comcast said Xfinity TV customers can currently access their subscription via the Xfinity Stream app on iOS and Android mobile devices, and on computers and laptops via the Xfinity Stream web portal.

The cabler reiterated that subs can also access their TV subscription via the Xfinity Stream app for Roku devices and Samsung smart TVs (and soon LG and Sony smart TVs as well) or use their Xfinity credentials to authenticate more than 130 networks across more than 20 devices, including Apple TV, Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Google Chromecast, Xbox One and TiVo, among others.

Comcast said it “actively” remains in talks with other device manufacturers to distribute the Xfinity Stream app, “under terms that are mutually agreeable,” through the Xfinity TV Partner Program.

“[The program] continues to enable us to efficiently and effectively expand the range of devices our customers can utilize to access their Xfinity TV subscription,” wrote Comcast.

 

Comcast’s Solution to Video Sub Losses: Raise Broadband Pricing

Comcast Cable lost 96,000 video subscribers in the first-quarter (ended March 31), and 200,000 subs in 2017 — many to competing over-the-top video services and/or online TV platforms.

So, what is Comcast Cable doing in response to cord-cutters? Raising broadband (high-speed Internet) fees, CEO Dave Watson told an investor group.

Speaking May 14 at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit in New York, Watson reiterated that the traditional cable bundle still represents the best value to consumers eyeing a-la-carte programming alternatives such as Showtime OTT, HBO Now, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video and Hulu, etc.

When pay-TV subscribers opt for OTT video alternatives, they lose the multiproduct discount, while Comcast is able to lower its programming costs, while hiking monthly broadband fees.

Indeed, Comcast added 379,000 high-speed Internet subscribers in Q1, which helped upped broadband revenue 8.5% to $14.8 billion — 64% of video revenue.

“We’ve seen some low-end customers that have dropped video, maintain broadband … it’s accretive when that happens,” Watson said.

The executive said Comcast’s cloud-based X1 set-top continues to meld the traditional set-top with OTT video. The platform, which accounts for almost 60% of Comcast’s residential video footprint, now offers direct-access to Netflix and YouTube.

“We still think video is a very important category,” Watson said. “We’re still going to compete.”

At the same time, Watson concedes that competing streaming media set-top dives such as Roku offer similar features of X1, including the Xfinity app.

“We have a lot of optionality around how we manage the video relationship,” he said.