Commentary

Comcast 's New Stream Just Another Cord-Cutting Mirage

You know how TV cliffhangers often seem to show the hero of the series meeting her certain death?  And you know how you also know, nah, it only looks that way?

Every reconfiguration of the way cable-like content is delivered makes me feel the same way. It seems certain the next content package I sign on to will give me far more programming for far less than I’m spending now. It will be the greatest thing ever. 

But it never seems to work out like that.  

Comcast’s new Stream is a $15-a-month streaming service that doesn’t even require me to keep my Comcast cable subscription. For that cheap amount, Stream gives me the major broadcast networks, thousands of movies and TV shows from its own curated package, a DVR and HBO. 

This is not a full boat of content, but probably enough, for $15.

But, as Forbes pointed out in July when Comcast announced it, Stream   “won’t include the ability to watch this programming on your TV set (you’ll have to go to the specific ‘TV Everywhere’ app provided by the individual networks). You also can’t access Stream outside of your own (Comcast broadband) home.”

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As Wired completes the thought,  “In other words, barring HDMI cable contortions, this isn’t just a deal for cord-cutters; it’s for people who only want to watch television on the smallest screens they own.” And there are only two simultaneous feeds per household. So while just two or three paragraphs ago, I was set to cut, now, well, not so much.

It seems every cord-cutting solution is just about as irritating. For now, Stream is only available in Boston and Chicago but it will roll out nationwide, market by market in 2016 and maybe it will get better, though I can’t figure out a reason it should. As it’s offered now, Stream seems just enough TV to make you want to subscribe to Comcast’s cable package for a lot more.  That seems to be at least half the idea.

Getting programming into your home has gotten as complicated as ordering coffee. But actually, this Comcast invention is making more headlines for how it seems to circumvent data caps.

Comcast says Stream use doesn’t count against subscribers’ data plans, but others say by not counting it, Comcast is giving users preferential treatment. That’s not true, Comcast seems to be responding, because the net neutrality rules don’t apply to cable services, which is what the cable company says Stream is. 

Others--possibly significant others, like the FCC--may not agree.

“If this is a cable service, than every video online could be considered a cable service, and that's clearly not true," Matt Wood, policy director at consumer advocate Free Press told The Washington Post.  But as MediaPost’s Wendy Davis noted, a Hulu user would be eating up data minutes watching the same sitcom he could get without expending data minutes on Stream. Something’s not quite right.

Or quite enticing, either. This year, the market got flooded with new devices that seemingly set a course for consumers to finally and painlessly cut that cable cord. But none of them are perfect or near it. The only ones that would be truly hurt by more choice are the ones capable of providing it, so why should anyone be surprised by the hollow efforts?


pj@mediapost.com
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