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.