You'll Probably Want To Avoid Comcast's Streaming-Only Set-Top Box

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By John Anon November 08, 2018, 5:09pm
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Comcast is reportedly preparing to release a new streaming-based set-top box somewhat designed with cord-cutters in mind. The information on the device is still pretty limited and is based on a new report out of CNBC which in turn credits “people familiar with the matter” for the details.

In short, the idea here is that Comcast’s new device will be marketed and sold just to its broadband-only customers. So this will not be a product designed to cater to the company's existing TV customers as the device will not provide access to live TV. Instead, it will only provide access to a predetermined number and selection of apps, but it will also apparently bank on smart home product support and a voice control-supported remote control to appeal to users. While also offering those users the option to rent or buy additional content as and when required and as long as it comes from Comcast. At present, there are no details on how much the device will cost when it does become available, although those familiar with the situation expect the device to be launched at some point next year.

Background: Like many companies today, Comcast has been actively looking at ways in which it can effectively take advantage of the general consumer move away from traditional TV consumption to internet-based solutions which provide a streaming level of access to content. In fact, the company already offers its Xfinity X1 device which lets customers access the best of both worlds - live TV and app-based content, including content from popular streaming apps such as Prime Video. Which is arguably why the company is likely positioning this device as a live TV-less device as it will be one that complements the existence of the Xfinity X1, rather than competes with, or looks to replace in due course. One that is primarily aimed at targeting those users who are not interested in live TV at all and therefore are not particularly eligible for the company’s more robust Xfinity X1 solution.

What’s more, the device looks likely to be very basic in most respects. As although this will be a streaming box of sorts, the information coming out of this latest report indicates the system will not be open to the user. In other words, users will not be able to directly download apps onto the device. Although this is largely counter-intuitive to what cord-cutters want from a device, this is likely to be highly intentional on Comcast’s behalf as it will in effect act another way in which the company is able to prohibit the use of services and apps that provide access to live TV. Instead, the report suggests the device will provide access to a number of popular apps including Amazon Prime, Netflix and YouTube. Although the exact extent to the selection of available apps has yet to be decided by Comcast and is therefore open to change. As are most of the details mentioned here as it would seem Comcast is not quite set on what the product will do, offer, or cost, according to the sources.

Impact: The path Comcast seems to be trying to carve out here is a tricky one as it would seem the general idea is to limit the ways in which customers can access content that competes with its own services, while at the same time providing customers with the option to access more content than what the company naturally offers to them. An ideal middle-ground for a company like Comcast but one that's not so user-oriented. This is also while in addition to already providing a device to its cable TV customers that essentially does what this device will set out to do. As a result it would seem likely that price is going to prove to be crucial to the success of this device. Considering its arrival will come at a time when customers are already not limited when it comes to set-top box options and some which are very affordable. This is also important as although cheaper devices are usually understood to be less capable devices, in the context of this report it seems even the most affordable options now available provide access to most of the features this box will reportedly offer, as well as access to the features Comcast seemingly wants to prohibit users from having access to.

To combat this issue, the report indicates Comcast plans to heavily rely on interest in the smart home revolution as a means to lure customers to its otherwise limiting solution. As the report points out the new device will also be a smart home hub and therefore it will allow users to control various smart devices in the home including lights and thermostats. Although again, how likely this will be to act as a selling point on its own remains to be seen considering smart home product control is already easily accessed by a number of the existing solutions  - and again, even the most affordable.

Which once highlights the importance of price here for Comcast. However, this might be one area where Comcast may have an advantage over the various third-party devices available over the counter. As unlike those other options, it seems almost a given that Comcast will offer its solution to its customers on a per-month basis as an additional charge to their existing internet bill. Which although will mean it probably will cost the consumer more over time, it could appeal as a cheaper option in general to those looking for a no-thrills device that lets them have access to their favorite apps in one place - an option which is quickly and easily served up to them by their provider without them having to shop around for the best option. However it arrives, it does seem abundantly clear Comcast is going with an approach which will primarily look to lock its customers into its own services instead of taking a more forward-thinking approach that allows customers to choose the type of experience that's more suited to their individual needs.

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November 08, 2018, 5:09pm
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