Comcast Leverages Hardware To Tighten Grip On Subscribers
Giant global media conglomerate Comcast has big plans to expand its reach into connected A/V hardware, as demonstrated by recent reports that both its Comcast cable properties in the U.S. and acquired Sky operations overseas will be marketing a new streaming adapter followed by lines of connected smart TVs.
In the latest news, Comcast announced Wednesday that it has launched a global wireless streaming device called the XiOne, starting in Italy and Germany to Sky Q customers before bringing the device to U.S. Xfinity Flex customers soon.
The XiOne marks the first delivery to Sky customers in Europe of streamed video services. Eventually the XiOne connected device will be made available through all of Comcast’s global Xfinity and Sky operations.
It appears to be primed to go up against streaming competitors like Roku, Fire TV and Apple TV with a device and OS Comcast controls.
Meanwhile, recent reports originating from streaming technology web site Protocol said that Comcast is also preparing to announce plans to market its own integrated smart TVs to be sold in partnership with retailers including Walmart in the United States. It is also preparing similar products and plans for customers of its Sky Q services overseas.
The Sky smart TV products, at least, have been designed for Comcast with the help of Sky engineers.
The officially announced XiOne was developed with the intention to help connect all of Comcast’s video customers across the globe with their favorite entertainment sources, the company said.
Comcast described the XiOne as a plug-and-play device with fast processing and increased memory capable of delivering snappy switching and navigation between apps. The device supports WiFi 6, 4K UHD, HDR including Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos 3D surround sound. The device packages a compact voice remote optimized for media adapters.
“When Sky joined the Comcast family, we brought together our engineers to share insights, roadmaps, talent, and technology to support our global customers,” stated Charlie Herrin, President of Technology for Comcast. “The launch of our new XiOne device is a direct result of these efforts and underscores how our collaborative development approach can bring new and innovative streaming products to markets faster and more efficiently.”
Comcast said XiOne leverages its global technology platforms, bringing the best hardware, voice technology and aggregated search and discovery to the company’s suite of entertainment and connectivity products.
The streamer is said by the company to be the latest across Comcast’s range of Xfinity and Sky devices and its syndication partners designed to “provide incredible experiences that connect, protect and entertain customers around the world.”
As for its the connected TV plans, recent reports have indicated that Comcast smart TVs for the U.S. will be based on the company’s X1 OS platform and will be made by China ODM Hisense for sale in the United States. It’s unclear whether they will be sold in all cable markets or just in Comcast Xfinity territories.
Comcast is planning to introduce two models — 43- and 50-inches — under the XClass brand. Full feature sets and capabilities were not revealed, but the sets appear to be targeting the mainstream consumer market. The launch plans have not been officially announced by the company as this was written.
Similar reports surfaced in Europe that Sky was preparing to soon announce the launch of its own smart TV sets.
On both fronts, the sets will be able to aggregate all Comcast and Sky content and channels, as well as host major third party streaming apps without the need for separate set-top boxes.
The Comcast XClass TVs will offer voice control via Comcast’s own voice assistant, and will be able to carry apps for other streaming services, although Apple TV+ apparently will not be one them, since Comcast does not yet have a carriage deal in place with Apple.
Comcast will reportedly use the XClass TVs to cross-promote its Peacock Premium streaming service, with TV purchasers getting a year’s worth of Peacock Premium for free (a $4.99 per month value) as an enticement. Comcast was said to have already reached a deal with Walmart to sell the smart TVs in retail stores.
Using television sets as the Trojan horse, the cable MSO would have a stronger grasp on subscribers who will be made stickier through their investment in a product that is at-least partly dependent on Comcast’s broadband and pay-TV service packages. At the same time Comcast would garner stronger leverage over premium streaming service competitors in carriage deals further incentivized with the at the least perceived protection of favored-service status should throttling practices return.
Comcast would also be able to leverage its proprietary X1 platform for add-on sales opportunities. The platform serves as the smart TV OS and features a proprietary voice control system. This would enable Comcast to further sell or lease voice remotes, home security devices and home automation products tied to the platform.
Looking down the road it seems logical to expect Comcast could try to adopt practices like those used in Asia and other regions by China TV manufacturers Xiaomi (Miui), Skyworth (Coocaa) and others selling well featured, relatively inexpensive televisions at a loss or bare bones margins, while being subsidized by recurring fees charged for connected broadband services and delivered content.
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By Greg Tarr
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