Comcast's New Rented Streaming Box Is A Flimsy Attempt To Remain Relevant

from the beautiful-walled-gardens dept

Like countless other cable giants, Comcast continues to bleed cable TV subscribers at an alarming rate. These users, tired of sky-high prices, continue to flee to more competitive streaming alternatives and better customer service. That’s not great news for Comcast, which has spent decades enjoying a stranglehold over traditional TV, thanks in part to the industry’s walled gardens and monopoly over the cable box. And while cable giants could counter the streaming threat by competing on price, they instead continue to double down on ideas that don’t make a whole lot of sense.

Case in point: in a bid to try and keep users from “cutting the cord,” Comcast last week introduced Xfinity Flex. According to the Comcast press release, this new Flex streaming box will be made available to existing Comcast broadband customers for a $5 monthly rental fee, providing access to a limited number of streaming services (sans live streaming services like Playstation Vue, SlingTV, or DirecTV Now that directly compete with Comcast’s own offerings):

“Xfinity Flex will deepen our relationship with a certain segment of our Internet customers and provide them with real value,? said Matt Strauss, Executive Vice President, Xfinity Services for Comcast Cable. ?For just five dollars a month, we can offer these customers an affordable, flexible, and differentiated platform that includes thousands of free movies and shows for online streaming, an integrated guide for accessing their favorite apps and connected home devices, and the ease of navigating and managing all of it with our voice remote.”

Except the “value” provided by Comcast’s latest effort is dubious at best. For one, Comcast’s new hardware will only allow users to view a handful of curated streaming services and apps chosen and approved by Comcast. Why, exactly, would users, who could pay a one-time flat fee for Roku or build a media center PC (with an endless roster of apps and services), want to instead pay the least liked company in America an additional $5 per month for a box that’s highly restricted?

Another caveat: this being the cable company, that $5 isn’t actually $5. While Comcast rather buries this fact, the company’s ads make it clear that to order get Flex, you can’t have your own router, but have to also rent Comcast’s XFi Gateway for an additional $10-13 per month:

In short, Comcast’s $5 rental box is actually closer to a $15 rented box that doesn’t provide access to the full litany of streaming services. But as is usually the case, the mainstream tech press kind of missed all of that. Comcast-owned CNBC, for example, was quick to claim in a write up of the device that Comcast was somehow “making it easier” for the company’s subscribers:

“Comcast is making it easier for its broadband-only customers to access streaming video without an outside set-top box…”

Except that’s not at all what Comcast is doing here. The entire affair is Comcast desperately trying to seem innovative, when in reality it’s just attempting to erect barriers and keep customers inside its increasingly-irrelevant walled gardens. Customers don’t want to rent another Comcast-requested cable box, and given the wide variety of streaming hardware for sale, they shouldn’t.

Trying to keep customers on Comcast-approved hardware is going to prove to be a fool’s errand. Comcast’s real ace in the hole in terms of battling cord cutting won’t be hardware, but the company’s growing monopoly over broadband in many markets. This dwindling competition is letting Comcast erect arbitrary and unnecessary usage caps and overage fees. Fees that will apply to competing services but not to Comcast’s own TV content, giving it a wonderful way to not just raise rates, but to use its power as network operator to disadvantage streaming providers in the absence of net neutrality rules.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast's New Rented Streaming Box Is A Flimsy Attempt To Remain Relevant”

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32 Comments
Gary (profile) says:

Efficiencies

See, this is why market monopolies are so efficient. Without competition, Comcast doesn’t have to spend money innovating. They can just put out krap products and their customers will eat it up.
Capitalism working as designed – to gather maximum profit to the stakeholders. Not maximum benefit to the captive audience.
Comcast – #1 in customer service in markets with no alternatives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Most TV's already do this. A Waste of money.

The worst thing about this? The fine print shows that that $5 per month does not even include access to Netflix, HBO, or any of the services. You still have to sign up and pay for those separately.

Even dumber? this thing touts 4K. A vast majority of 4K TV’s already have access to all of those services.

So you are throwing $5 a month down the drain for something the TV already does.

Even if your TV does not, You could pay to own a Roku stick in only six months at this price. Ten months if you want 4K. Plus you don’t have to use their shitty gateway that forces you to share your wifi and bandwidth with anyone passing by (at least that data is exempt from your cap).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Hey Comcast?

Comcast fictional PR person:

"Sure you can get all of that for cheap…

But where is the "convenience" in that?

What if you can get the benefit of subscribing seperately to HBO, Showtime, Starz, Netflix AND then paying $5/m in perpetuity to access those subscriptions!

I mean $5 is a heck of a lot cheaper than $50 for that complicated and confusing Roku. What does Roku even mean? Is that Japanese? Remember what the Japanese did to Hawaii? Why do you hate our troops? "

JR says:

Re: Hey Comcast?

Rogers in Canada has rolled out the Comcast "solution". In my installation, I have 1 gig (940 meg after overhead), land line, and wall to wall with everything but the PPV and Porn.

You get the first "$5" steaming box included in the rent, with extra ones at the $5 dollar rate. Their gateway is included at no charge. If you have have a 1 gig router and fast WiFi you can put the gateway in bridged mode then run your own network aggregating all the Rogers streaming boxes.

I have their service for national and sports networks in 4k which is something most streamers have a hard time with.

All that for 205 bucks a month. Worth it to me.

JR

cattress (profile) says:

Comcast is flicking its nipples...

I see Comcast wants broadband only consumers to bring a voice activated remote into their home. Personally, I only like voice activated functions when I’m driving. Otherwise, I have no need for technology to listen to me muttering to my cats (or now my baby) and creating lists of whose got a fluffy butt or whose got a poopy diaper. Even though I never activated the voice function on my remote, I keep it stuffed between pillows just in case.
So this new "streaming" box already works with all content providers, or does it cost more to add certain new ones, the access sold in some sort of package, maybe with activation and deactivation charges when changing the configuration of services? And what about HD or 4K picture quality, will the box offer this right off the bat, or would I need to upgrade the box, or rent multiple boxes to access different picture qualities? And activation/deactivation and box installation will require a technician to visit my home during an 8hour window on a weekday, 6-12weeks from now, which will be added to my bill for my convenience, right? And at least once a day the box will need to completely shut down, and 4 or 5 out of 7 times a week, the technician installed box that works perfectly fine the rest of the time, will show some sort of connection issue and make the 10 minute process take 45 minutes? I can have all the shit I hate about their cable service for a fraction of the price?!?!
I totally picture the murder porn episode of South Park…

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