Comcast just announced that it will offer a video streaming service, called Xfinity Streampix, to Xfinity subscribers. Depending on your cable/internet package, the price for the service could be $5 a month or free (depending on how stuffed your subscriber package is).
So far the early news looks like it’s just for TV programming, but movies may be included or added eventually. Several news reports have been positioning this anouncment as a shot across the bow to Netflix. I’m not so sure about that. It seems at one level more like a shot across the bow at video-on-demand. On another level an attack on Hulu, and other another it strikes directly against Verizon’s planned service with Redbox, though the Verizon deal is more like Netflix than Streampix is.
Verizon already offers its customers a serviced called Flexview which lets you rent a VOD movie and then play it back over a variety of devices. Will the Streampix be much more than that? We don’t really know yet, but I think there’s a good chance that this plan, and others like it from competitors, are both attempts to stem the flow of customers deserting pay TV for net TV (in part aided by the proliferation of smart TVs and similar products) and to turn their free VOD offerings into something they can make money from.
Consider this, if I forget to record 30 Rock with my DVR I can always go to the free VOD selection and watch the episode—with commercials I can’t fast-forward through. But what happens when Xfinity (or Verizon or fill in the blank) decides that since they now have a streaming service, they take 30 Rock away from VOD? It’s typical of cable companies to charge you for things you used to get for free (well, not for free, but for your package price). How many times has your cable company changed its channel lineup so that a channel you used to receive now exists only on a more expensive package? As a FiOS customer, I’ve seen that happen several times, so the effect is that the company slowly chips away at my service all in the name of somehow offering me more options.
In fact, Comcast already has a streaming service called XfinityTV.com, which offers recent episodes of TV shows and some movies. You don’t even need to be a Comcast customer to watch some of the programs for free. I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes too.
Banks are also well-known for these kinds of tricks—charging for services that used to be offered without additional fees.
I also wouldn’t be surprised to find commercials on Streampix programs—commercials you can’t avoid. Cable companies hate DVRs, but they feel compelled to offer them.
I don’t see Streampix as competition to Netflix. I see it as another thing to drive people way from cable and to Netflix. Of course that’s not what Comcast has in mind, but that may be the result.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.