Comcast Fires Back at FCC by Making TV Service Available Without a Set-Top Box
Comcast’s full TV lineup will be available on Roku, Samsung smart TVs for first time
Comcast is making its full TV lineup available on Roku devices and Samsung smart TVs for the first time, without requiring customers to lease its proprietary set-top box. Photo: Bloomberg News
By Shalini Ramachandran (From Wall Street Journal Article )
April 20, 2016 5:38 p.m. ET
Comcast Corp. CMCSA -0.85 % fired back at the Federal Communications Commission’s set-top box proposal by making its full TV lineup available on Roku devices and Samsung SSNHZ 0.00 % smart TVs for the first time, without requiring customers to lease its proprietary box.
The company launched a program Wednesday to partner with any and all device makers to offer the app more widely.
“We remain committed to giving our customers more choice in how, when and where they access their subscription,” said Mark Hess, senior vice president in the Office of the Chief Technology Officer at Comcast Cable.
Comcast’s move comes amid a heated debate raging in Washington, D.C. over the merits of a recent push by the FCC and the White House to force operators to decouple their cable TV service from proprietary set-top boxes they lease to customers. The FCC has said its “Unlock the Box” campaign will create more choices for consumers, with the aim of lowering prices and offering better access to Internet video options. The agency’s plan has called for open standards to allow device makers to easily get access to pay-TV content and channel listings.
Opponents of the proposal have said the FCC’s move could upset important parts of their business, such as advertising and cable channel placement. They say technology companies like Alphabet Inc. GOOGL 0.66 % ’s Google would be able to access valuable data about consumers’ viewing habits. Cable executives have noted that a move away from set-top boxes has organically been happening in the market. Time Warner Cable and Charter Communications Inc. CHTR 0.68 % are trying out apps on the Roku device that offer their TV service without requiring a set-top box.
“If the FCC’s set-top box proceeding is truly just about freeing consumers from monthly box fees, today’s announcement underscores how absurd the arguments for government intervention are,” according to The Future of TV Coalition, a group backed by cable TV providers and TV channels. “Apps, not federal box mandates, are the fastest and most effective way to expand consumers’ options for video devices.”
An FCC official expressed skepticism about the move’s significance.
“While we do not know all of the details of this announcement, it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to,” the FCC official said.
Comcast’s new Xfinity TV app isn’t an “over-the-top” service like Netflix NFLX -1.86 % or Sling TV. It’s only available for Comcast customers in their own homes and doesn’t travel over the public Internet portion of Comcast’s cable pipes. It also doesn’t count toward data usage as a result, since it is akin to a traditional cable TV service, albeit in Internet protocol format.
Some of the perks that come with Comcast’s proprietary X1 box, like voice-enabled searching with their remote, won’t be available through third-party device makers. But the app will include live, on-demand programming, as well as an option for saving programs on a cloud-based digital video recorder.
—John McKinnon contributed to this article.