Comcast, the world's largest communications and mass media company, announced yesterday that it will soon offer its cable TV subscribers access to 35 live channels through its Xfinity video player app. The update, called Xfinity TV Go, will stream over Wi-Fi and will be available for Apple and Android phones and tablets. Analysts believe that Verizon Wireless subscribers will be able to stream over LTE or 3G, though the company hasn't confirmed that.
The TV Go update comes at a time when cable operators continue to lose subscribers at an increasingly rapid rate. Yes, the vast majority of Americans still pay for cable, but the number of U.S. households that cut the cord in 2007 numbered 2 million, and by 2013, that number has risen to 5 million – largely due to internet-based video services. Afterall, when you can easily plug an Xbox or Apple TV into your tube and subscribe to everything Hulu and Netflix have to offer for less than $20 a month, how can Comcast up-sell you on premium cable?
Comcast believes Xfinity TV Go is the answer. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the list of launch channels focuses on news, sports and children's programming; if you're a news or sports junkie and spend lots of time out of the house, the ability to stream video directly to your phone or tablet is pretty alluring. And if you're a kid-toting parent who uses your iPhone as a pacifier, Comcast has you covered. They effectively turned your tablet into a secondary TV, albeit one limited to 35 channels. (The full list available at launch includes BBC World News, beIN Sport, beIN Sport Español, Big Ten Network, CNBC, CNN, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, ESPN, ESPN 2, ESPN 3, ESPN Deportes, ESPN News, ESPNU, FOX Business Channel, FOX News Channel, FOX Sports 1, FX, FXX, Golf Channel, HLN, MSNBC, Nat Geo, Nat Geo Wild, NBC Sports Network, Pac-12 and its six regional networks, and Willow TV.)
While more are expected in the future, there's a reason Comcast is offering just 35 out of the hundreds of channels already piping through your cable box: The networks have been reluctant to grant rights on platforms whose audiences can't be quantified by services like Nielsen. The lack of such measurement has meant that the networks risk losing advertising money if viewers move from TVs to iPads.
In the larger scheme, though, it's highly unlikely that this move will this be enough to stem the slow but steady tide of cable owners cutting cable. Regardless, you should call your provider right now and demand to pay half of what you currently do. Chances are, they'll say yes.