The No. 1 cable company today unveiled its Xfinity TV Partner Program, which will enable Comcast’s TV customers to access their programming without a company-supplied box. It also announced deals to kick off the program sometime this year for people who own Samsung Smart TV sets and Roku boxes.
This is the first time Comcast has offered nearly all of its TV programming services to home users without a Comcast box. Unlike the streaming TV Everywhere service, today’s announcement involves programming transmitted via the cable line as opposed to the Internet.
Users will be able to access two-way services — including Comcast’s program guide, VOD and cloud-based DVR — as well as federally mandated services such as closed captioning and parental controls.
“We remain committed to giving our customers more choice in how, when and where they access their subscription, and the Xfinity TV Partner Program enables us to efficiently and effectively expand the range of devices our customers can utilize to do that,” says Comcast Cable SVP Mark Hess.
There are still a few details that need to be ironed out. Those who receive programming without Comcast’s box won’t be able to make transactions — for example, to watch pay-per-view programming or buy downloads of movies. It also won’t work with the voice commands available on Comcast’s remote controls.
Those who buy TV from Comcast but Internet from someone else will need a small device from the cable company to feed the programming into a box like Roku’s that doesn’t use HTML5. Comcast says it doesn’t contemplate a charge for the device.
The cable company didn’t frame the announcement as a counterpoint to the FCC’s set-top box initiative — but the industry’s lobby group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, did.
The developments “demonstrate how innovative marketplace solutions are enabling consumers to enjoy their favorite pay TV programming on a growing variety of retail devices without the need for a traditional set-top box,” NCTA CEO Michael Powell says. “Instead of rushing forward with a regulatory proceeding that will upset a marketplace that is undergoing such a dramatic transformation and achieving the goals that it seeks, the FCC should study these developments and reconsider the path it appears to be on. ”
An FCC official counters that Comcast’s plan “appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to.”
President Obama last week endorsed the FCC effort to open the way for independent manufacturers to offer rival devices that unscramble pay TV transmissions. The White House says that consumers pay about $20 billion a year to rent or lease cable boxes. That’s up 185% over the past 20 years, a time when prices for computers, televisions and mobile phones have declined by 90%.
“It’s been tied to the provider, and you rent it and consumers spend billions of dollars on this every single year,” Obama told Yahoo Finance. “There hasn’t been much innovation.”