Aiming to meet growing demand for video content by its internet-only customers, Comcast is rolling out Xfinity Flex, a new streaming service that will combine VOD, free, ad-supported live streams and access to subscription apps.
The new offering, launching March 26, costs $5 as an extra fee for current Xfinity internet customers. It will feature 10,000 free, ad supported VOD film and TV titles and a handful of live services such as ESPN3, Xumo, Pluto, Tubi TV, Cheddar and YouTube. Flex will also include access to subscription streaming apps such as HBO, Showtime and Epix, which will be available for their standard extra fees, with one-click ordering through customers’ Comcast accounts.
As with the regular Xfinity interface, subscription apps such as Netflix and Amazon are integrated into Flex. Comcast is the No. 1 cable operator in the U.S., with its advanced Xfinity service accounting for more than half of its 22 million subscribers. Mobile and broadband have been growing significantly for Comcast and other operators even as the traditional TV bundle continues to evolve, causing headwinds for traditional pay-TV.
Matt Strauss, EVP of Xfinity Services at Comcast Cable, announced the plan during a media conference call.
“It’s targeted to a segmented part of our customer base,” Strauss said. ‘For this targeted segment, which is internet-first but wants access to video in a different way we think Flex will be a nice addition to our portfolio.”
The launch is occurring in a context of broadband growth and strong demand for video, Strauss said, whether through internet connections or the traditional cable bundle. In 2018, six billion hours of video on demand were viewed on X1, a 20% gain over the prior year, according to the company. Strauss said research has shown many shows draw higher Nielsen ratings on X1 compared with non-X1 viewing.
“We can’t make a bad show good,” Strauss quipped, “but we’ve demonstrated with X1 that we can drive audience.”
Personalization and ease of discovery will be key priorities, Strauss said. “We believe there is actually app fatigue. It’s really about aggregating the experience of these apps,” he said, describing the overall goal of Xfinity of being an “aggregator of aggregators.” Comcast was an early mover on a strategy some rivals considered to be potentially lethal, integrating rival video services into the user interface, making it easy for viewers to toggle from ad-supported programming and subscription fare that has presented an existential challenge to the traditional bundle.
“Everything we’ve learned from X1, almost from the beginning, is that you really have to offer customers the choice,” Strauss said. “The blurring of the lines between live, on-demand, DVR and apps, has been the foundation of our strategy from the beginning. …. People in the end just want to be entertained. TV is still a lean-back experience.”
In an increasingly connected landscape, Flex is designed to serve as what Strauss called a “digital dashboard” for the home. Strauss said within three years a typical household will have 50 connected devices under the same roof, from appliances to thermostats to, of course, mobile devices and other electronics. Flex will marry video offerings to the control of a household’s digital wares, a theme Strauss hit throughout the call.