Comcast helps subscribers, holds itself back with Fancast Xfinity TV site
That's the nicest thing I have to say about this site, which lets Comcast TV and Internet subscribers view much of the programming they pay to get on their televisions; Comcast PR, I guess you'll want to quote that in an ad.
But I also have my share of negativity about this site.
There are the usability glitches and the puzzling gaps in content that other reviewers have critiqued.
There's the poor marketing of Fancast Xfinity that seems to have left many viewers unaware of its existence. The first reaction I got to the piece on Twitter was "How come they are not letting their customers know about this?", while a reader comment here read: "Is that what this xfinity thing is that they've been advertising? The ads make it seem like more of a rebranding effort."
But the real problem is the industry mindset behind this site and other "TV Everywhere" ventures. Cable and satellite companies aren't wrong to pitch online viewing options as a bonus with a regular subscription; were I shopping for pay-TV service (which which I'm not at the moment), I would certainly consider this a reason to pick Comcast over other providers.
But providing Fancast Xfinity or a site like it for free to existing subscribers doesn't preclude charging non-subscribers for Web-only viewing. You could do both at once. TV providers would have to renegotiate carriage contracts with networks to allow this, but after that they'd be free to build their businesses by giving viewers yet another way to become a customer.
True, they would risk cannibalizing some of their existing subscriber base -- but they could also sell Web subscriptions nationwide, instead of only in areas where they already offer TV service.
And yet a disturbing number of people in the TV industry seem incapable of grasping that point. Consider, for example, this blog post by Mark Cuban that enthusiastically defends TV Everywhere but never mentions the possibility of selling online-only subscriptions alongside that -- Cuban acts as if the only other way to provide video on the Web is to give it away for free. The writer is a pretty savvy guy in general (Cuban's day job is owning the Dallas Mavericks); I am genuinely puzzled why he doesn't talk about that option.
You can see a similar sort of low-resolution thinking in such ventures as HBO's existing-subscribers-only HBO Go site and the repeated actions of the networks pulling Hulu's strings to stop viewers from using software that might make it easier to watch the site on an HDTV.
I can only conclude that TV providers must not feel that threatened by competition, or they wouldn't be so quick to cast aside chances to go after new customers. Or maybe TV Everywhere critics aren't off-base to see this idea as nothing more than an abusive attempt to cement the pay-TV cartel's current business model.
You can help me provide some context to that discussion: In the comments, tell me how much you'd pay for a Web-only TV subscription, how you'd like to see such a service work, and whether you'd then drop your existing cable or satellite subscription.
March 26, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories: TV , Video
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