Cable giant Comcast has finally entered the streaming video wars, but with an offering that doesn’t include much unique content.
Users of the new service, called Flex, get a set top box, much like those from Apple or Roku, to connect to their TVs, and a voice-controlled remote. The device gives them access to mostly free online video services, like Cheddar, Pluto and YouTube, along with pay streaming services such asNetflix and Amazon’s Prime Video—but only if they subscribe to those services on their own.
What Flex doesn’t do is carry content from Comcast’s NBC Universal unit, which owns cable channels like MSNBC and Hollywood studio Universal Pictures. Nor does it eliminate commercials or give access to any unique content, which has proven key in making new media services successes.
Starting next week, Flex will cost $5 monthly but will only be available to current Comcast Internet customers.
Asked why anyone would subscribe to Flex when they could access all the same content with a simple $40 box from Roku (ROKU, +3.09%), Matt Strauss, executive vice president for Xfinity Services at Comcast, said the service provided a “more unified experience” that integrated many offerings in a single TV interface. Flex can also be connected to smart home appliances like thermostats and security cameras, he said.
Strauss added that Comcast is aiming Flex at just “a certain segment of our Internet customers” who wanted a more organized view of available Internet video services. Flex won’t be available nationwide or to non-Comcast customers, he said, explaining that many consumers had “app fatigue” from the number of services already available.
Comcast (CMCSA, +1.49%) has suffered from the cord-cutting phenomenon—by which people replace their traditional cable TV subscriptions with streaming services— along with the rest of the pay TV market. Nearly 1 million peopledropped cable or satellite service across the industry in the fourth quarter, a record number.
But Comcast has made up for some of the losses by adding customers for high-speed Internet service. Last year, Comcast added 1.4 million new Internet customers, for example.
Flex does little to give Comcast a leg up on Netflix (NFLX, +0.72%), Hulu and Amazon (AMZN, +1.24%), which cost more per month, but offer huge libraries of original and licensed programs without ads. Apple (AAPL, +3.67%) is expected to unveil its streaming service on Monday with a dozen or more original shows and Disney (DIS, -1.22%) has also said it will debut something similar, offering access to its vast library of movies, that now includes Star Wars and Marvel comics.
In some ways, getting Internet-only customers to hook up the Flex box may be a strategy to woo them back into Comcast’s cable TV ecosystem. Strauss said Flex customers will also be able to add any of Comcast’s regular cable TV packages to their Flex service or upgrade it to Comcast’s Xfinity X1 video service–for additional fees.