Comcast Preventing Customers From Accessing Starz Streaming App, Can Only Offer Flimsy Reasons Why

from the anti-competitive-shenanigans dept

Last year, we noted that Comcast was refusing to let the company’s customers access HBO’s streaming video service on certain platforms. In order to watch a service like HBO Go on your Roku or, say, gaming console, you need to log in using your cable credentials, as with most “TV Everywhere” type services. Most cable operators had no problem quickly enabling this authentication, but when it came to say — HBO Go on Roku or the Playstation 3 or 4, Comcast refused to let the services work. Why? If users can’t access this content via a third-party app, they’re more likely to watch the content on Comcast’s own apps, devices, and services.

Of course Comcast can’t just come out and admit this, so when asked why it’s having so much trouble getting this kind of authentication to work, it offers a rotating crop of excuses to news outlets, including claims such efforts just take “time and resources“:

“With every new website, device or player we authenticate, we need to work through technical integration and customer service which takes time and resources. Moving forward, we will continue to prioritize as we partner with various players.”

Right. The problem is that nearly every other cable operator has made this kind of authentication work without problems nearly instantaneously. For example if you head to the HBO Go activation page and select Playstation 4, you’ll note that no other cable operator appears to be having these kinds of problems. Roku actually needed to file an FCC complaint to get Comcast to stop doing this (years after customers started complaining). But it’s still a problem for Playstation 3 or 4 users trying to use HBO Go; those annoyed users are now being told over at the Comcast forums that the apps won’t work due to some unspecified “business terms” that have yet to be agreed upon:

“HBO Go availability on PS3 (and some other devices) are business decisions and deal with business terms that have not yet been agreed to between the parties. Thanks for your continued patience.”

Again though, these ambiguous “business disputes” are apparently specific to Comcast’s unique way of doing business, since no other major cable operator appears to be having them when it comes to third-party authentication.

And this is a problem that just keeps happening. Starz recently announced that it was launching its own, shiny new streaming video service. According to the Starz announcement, non-cable customers can pay $9 a month to access the app, but cable customers can access the application for free. Well, once again, except for Comcast customers, who are being “blocked” from accessing the app:

“Comcast disagrees with Starz’s one-app-fits-all approach. The biggest U.S. cable operator and a key Starz affiliate has opted not to participate in the TV-everywhere aspect of Starz’s new app. For now, at least, Comcast is declining to enable the authentication (or verification) of Starz subscribers on Comcast Xfinity who want to use the new app. Representatives of Comcast and Starz both say they are “great partners” and hope something can be worked out to resolve the situation, though it is unclear what might cause Comcast to change its view on the matter.

But because this exists in the murky periphery of telecom and television services and not the general Internet, it’s not technically a net neutrality violation. It’s just another, vanilla example of Comcast behaving anti-competitively in the hopes of herding its customers away from alternative content access methods and toward its own services. And that’s par for the course for Comcast, which is now using usage caps to exempt its own streaming video services, giving them yet another leg up in the marketplace.

How outrageous you’ll find Comcast’s latest crippling of a third-party app appears to vary from person to person. I’ve seen more than a few people argue it’s Comcast’s prerogative to engage in these kinds of ambiguous business disputes, though I’ve seen just as many argue that if the Starz app offers paying customers a better way to access the same content — it should be up to the consumer to make that decision, not Comcast. Either way, it’s this kind of behavior that not only contributes to Comcast’s historically-bad customer service rankings, but also the slow but steady rise in traditional cable cord cutting.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast Preventing Customers From Accessing Starz Streaming App, Can Only Offer Flimsy Reasons Why”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Just a theory...

This would be like the water company demanding you pay more because you use the water to make ice sculptures. They should just be a dumb pipe. Deciding what does and does not get delivered makes them suddenly a gatekeeper who happens to own competing businesses and not the provider they claim to be.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just a theory...

How do you own bandwidth permanently? Do you think you can also own the telephone signal you’re paying for?

My theory is you completely misread that and thought he was talking about the content, not the bandwidth (even though he clearly said bandwidth). Comcast customers are paying for the bandwidth, but they’re also trying to control how it’s used, which is the problem.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Just a theory...

Which opens up the question as to why it’s only them having a problem doing so.

I somehow doubt that every other cable company has just given them the same service without any contract & payment negotiation, so what is it about Comcast that makes them different? Are they asking for too much? Are they insisting on unreasonable terms? Do they have some outdated, poor or non-standard technology that prevents them from offering the service, but they don’t wish to advertise the fact? Are they simply refusing to negotiate at all, preferring to force customers to use their own apps exclusively no matter what the terms?

Any of those are valid, interesting questions. Blaming bandwidth, as the OP did, is not.

TruthHurts (profile) says:

Re: Just a theory...

They’d be wrong to feel that way as Comcast’s customers have already paid for the bandwidth they’d use. Stars already paid their upstream provider for the bandwidth their customers use.

That hasn’t stopped the crooks coughcomcast from “trying” to illegally double-dip, but that doesn’t mean they should continue to make the attempts.

It’s an extortion racket, pure and simple.
“Say, that’s a nice data stream, it sure would be a shame if something were to happen to that while it traverses our network.” while at the same time telling their customers that “Sorry, but so far, Starz has failed to pay up, so you can’t watch what you want to watch becuz we sez so. If’n you don’ like that, tuff, ‘dez not much you can do about it as we gots dis whole neighborhood on lockdown.”

Anonymous Coward says:

The only ‘technical issue’ that can be causing this on Comcast’s end is if Comcast is deliberately blocking the service. Otherwise there is no other technical issue involving Comcast that would be causing this, Comcast is just the service provider and how a website or service works depends on how the client communicates with the host irrespective of the ISP.

Well, unless there is a sort of ‘spam filter’ that’s blocking certain characters from being sent through (but then that would imply Comcast is data snooping. Also if the data is encrypted this doesn’t apply) or if Comcast is automatically port blocking certain ports for ‘security’ reasons (ie: to deliberately block the service).

I guess some ISPs have multiple customers share the same IP address and, consequently, they may behave as though they were under a firewall with no ability to open certain ports to solicited traffic?

Avatar28 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

No, it wouldn’t help. It’s not an issue of Starz/Comcast blocking the connection. The connection is just fine. When you sign up for one of these partnered streaming services as a cable subscriber, you have to put in your login credentials for your cable provider account when you sign up. Starz (or whoever) then verifies the credentials with your cable provider when you log in. They see it’s a legitimate account and you are a subscriber to their product and they give you access.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

When you sign up for one of these partnered streaming services as a cable subscriber, you have to put in your login credentials for your cable provider account when you sign up.

If true, this is exactly the sort of thing Comcast should be blocking. Customers shouldn’t be giving their Comcast passwords to others, and Comcast shouldn’t be letting one server try lots of username/password combinations. If Starz won’t accept reverse-DNS as authentication, that’s their choice. If they want to determine whether someone subscribes to Starz, they should renegotiate their Comcast contract ASAP to have a proper method of sharing/validating subscriber data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

[…]with HBO Go[…] There is a redirect to the web site of the TV provider, where the user authenticates, and then the provider sends an all clear back to the video streaming site.

That seems reasonable, but it would require support from the cable provider. (Not much support, and any customer-focused provider would do it—if such providers still existed.) Does the Comcast/Starz contract require Comcast to implement anything like this?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Reverse DNS

So we just set it up that customers who are Starz subscribers have a special account note to ensure that the PTR lookup puts them as instead of Leaking their subscription pattern to anyone who does a PTR lookup can be ignored. After all, users expect to have no privacy and expect their cable company to be abusive. This delivers well on both counts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

A VPN will not work for this because this has nothing to do with hiding your originating location.

This is a straight forward Single Sign On issue where a 3rd party (Starz) needs to make sure the user accessing their service is a valid cable subscriber by entering their ISP’s (Comcast) credentials. Properly implemented, there is no reason for special partner on-boarding. Comcast (or any service provider) can easily create a universal authentication for third parties.

Ninja (profile) says:

The ISPs here in Brazil tried to introduce usage caps in fixed line broadband with the same lousy excuses the US colleagues used. Thankfully the backlash was huge and our regulatory agency Anatel (same as FCC in the US) reversed the decision allowing such practices for an undetermined time forbidding the practices while the issue is better discussed and understood.

Interestingly there was one ISP that announced they wouldn’t be introducing such usage caps. Not coincidentally it’s the only ISP that doesn’t offer their own streaming/cable TV options.

Ninja (profile) says:

I posted the above before reading so I’ll complement:

HBO Go availability on PS3 (and some other devices) are business decisions

No it isn’t. In neutral services it would work regardless of network or device (I know it isn’t the internet but given the monopoly the ISPs generally hold it is an issue). It’s both the operator and/or HBO being assholes (in a truly competitive world HBO stuff would be offered elsewhere too, ie: on Netflix). Starz is a shiny example. Comcast will still make money to offer their solution in their cable portion of the pipe, they just don’t like the competition it will offer.

If you treat all data equally it shouldn’t be any problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Confusing headline

The headline currently reads Comcast Preventing Customers From Accessing Starz Streaming App. The article body says that Comcast is demonstrating its standard incompetence / negligence with regard to enabling Starz to confirm that a user is a Comcast subscriber. It looks like, if a Comcast customer is willing to pay the Starz subscriber fee, they can get access to the Starz content, even when the connection comes from a Comcast IP address. While this certainly conflicts with the “TV Everywhere” idea that one subscription (to Comcast, Time Warner, or equivalent local monopoly) also buys you, at no extra cost, access to their partners’ content over partner-operated streaming services, it does not directly mean Comcast customers are prevented from accessing Starz. They are only prevented from accessing it at no additional charge. Thus, the headline on the Techdirt piece seems to be slightly overstating Comcast’s abusiveness. This is a substantial feat, given Comcast’s typical conduct.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Confusing headline

Do any of those problems lead to inability to access Starz? As I understand it, those problems make it more burdensome and expensive than it ought to be, but none outright prevent it. Additionally, it is not clear from the article whether Comcast would exempt Starz content from data caps even after Comcast enables Starz to recognize Comcast subscribers (allowing those subscribers to avoid buying a separate $9 Starz subscription). If Comcast does not exempt Starz content from the data cap, then citing their data cap here is irrelevant, since it would impact the customer for any Starz usage, regardless of whether the customer was forced to buy the $9 subscription separately. Similarly, Comcast has demonstrated no particular desire to resolve their network congestion issues, so that too would probably hinder Starz use even after the $9 subscription issue is resolved.

Anonymous Coward says:

I work for a cable company, this authentication is not as easy as it would seam. The are several different players involved, not just the cable company and the streaming provider.

The cable company has to have a third party access their system to authenticate and to see if the customer pays for the service, and then report back to the streaming company if there is authorization. This process requires contracts, access control lists, SSL or TLS plus compatible encoding, certificates, compatible protocols etc..

Some streaming services require that the ACL be whitelisted to handle traffic from any server, some cable companies only allow a trusted well known IP address.

It’s very complex, that it works at all has always been wondrous to me.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All of these issues are ones that have been faced by internet companies for a long, long time. Yes, they are complex and yes, no perfect solution has been found.

However, there are a number of very good solutions that directly resolve most of the issues you’ve raised here. Most of them are off-the-shelf, and many of them are available at no cost.

I don’t buy the idea that this is too complex to do in a reasonable way and in a reasonable time frame. There are too many examples of others who have managed it with a smaller budget and less manpower than Comcast has. Several of them are even other cable companies.

All signs (even Comcast’s own words) point to this not being a problem of logistics or ability. This is a problem of Comcast being a greedy prick.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It may be wondrous to you, but from the article it appears that only Comcast shares your viewpoint. Other providers have been able to offer the requested service, and it’s a service that’s going to be requested more and more often in the future.

So, rather than being in awe about how complex something that’s been both requested and provided by competitors for some time now might look, perhaps they should start on offering the solution?

I don’t work for a cable company, but I do work for a company that requires constant communication between authentication systems, running on sites that require live integration from at least 5 different providers. I don’t believe the people who said “we can’t do that, it’s too complex” would have lasted long in the face of the people who made it happen.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Unclear complaint

It’s unclear whether you’re saying people who buy Starz from Starz can’t use the service they’re paying for or just that Comcast customers who pay Comcast for Starz can’t use the app. I pay Comcast for HBO and can watch it on Apple TV and Amazon just fine, and I pay Apple for Showtime and I can watch it just fine on the same device on the Comcast network.

So which is it?

Justme says:

Not completely clear. .

Am i understanding this correctly, If Comcast is your provider for both cable and internet and you subscribe to Starz, then Comcast is preventing access to Starz streaming App as an added benefit that starz is offering for free?

But if you don’t subscribe to starz thru comcast, you can pay stars $9 and use the streaming app even if you have Comcast’s as your isp.

If that the case, stop paying comcast for starz and skip the middle man, let comcast pay for their greed in lost subscriptions.

Barnes says:

Comcast / xfinity customer being controlled by Comcast

Is Comcast Joking?? .. We pay well over 200 a month and I’m being blocked from using starz on my Apple TV because they are getting so greedy and disgusting.. Maybe I should cancel ALL THE FN EXTRA STATIONS AND JUST PAY FOR WIFI AND DIRECTLY PAY STARZ AND HBO FOR THIER SERVICES EVERY MONTH .. That’s what they r gonna make people start doing.. Comcast needs to b knocked down a few 100 pegs and stop acting like they control US AND OUR MONEY .. Without customers they are NOTHING.. And they need to start remembering that.. Ugggg I’m so angry right now, thanks for letting me vent and thanks for info

Anonymous Coward says:*****/Comcast_SSO&
on the part where the ***** replace it with the code generated on your device and all set login to the starz make sure you are loged in on your Xfinity account before doing this

Lisa says:


I have been a very long term, loyal Comcast customer.. I’ve always had the premium packages, paid up for the channels I need to have, etc, etc…

I’ve recently found we are in a room w/no cable outlet so we use the Apple TV in their… We have no problems getting most channels thru each app, like HBO Go, Showtime & a long list of others… The ONLY channel that we cannot download or watch thru their app or Apple TV’s app is flippin STARZ!
What gives? You get SOOOO much money from me along w/most the country & you can allow us to watch something we already pay for thru our Apple TV? This makes no sense! It’s a huge slap in the face to ALL of your customers!
I’ve never complained about Comcast ever. I’ve referred tons of people to them.. But this, is crooked & foul… COMCAST pull yer head out yer arse & give us the ability to access what we already pay for where we would like to watch it! I’m disabled & this room happens to be the most comfortable room in my home…. So unless you would like to pay for the cost of having your team come drill a hole in the wall for another cable line, add a box, remote, ALL on your dime then great!
We’re not asking for something for free, we pay you every month for these channels! We should be able to watch them however we want or need to watch them in our own homes!

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