Yesterday, the largest cable company in the nation, Comcast, launched a product called Fancast Xfinity. Xfinity is the brand name of Comcast’s product, but the rest of the cable industry is planning to roll out something similar. They’re part of a cable-industry-wide initiative known in the industry as “TV Everywhere.” The point of this initiative is actually to kill online TV and make sure people keep paying their cable subscriptions.
Thirty years from now, if Americans are still tied to their local cable companies, we will look back to yesterday as a pivotal moment in the history of television. In the last year, consumers have seen the potential of canceling their cable TV and watching TV, in their living rooms, through competitive Internet services like Roku or Hulu. Canceling cable would save Americans thousands a year they would spend on bloated cable TV bills. But Xfinity is meant to lock Americans into cable TV subscriptions for the forseeable future, as the Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday.
Here’s the business plan for “TV Everywhere.” Fancast Xfinity is a site that looks like Hulu but has different TV shows. You go to the Xfinity site to watch (on only three authorized devices) some shows and movies available on cable TV. Rather than making all these shows available to everyone on the Internet–like Hulu does, and like just about everything else online–the service is available only to Comcast subscribers in Comcast regions who subscribe to Comcast cable TV.
You’ll notice two things.
First, you can only watch Xfinity on the Internet if you pay your cable TV bill. This is totally new. It’s like saying you have to pay for cable TV to see pictures of funny cats online. Why can’t you just pay for the Internet service? The point of is to keep you from canceling cable and sticking with just Internet service. It’s to keep you paying two bills.
Second, Comcast and Time Warner Cable are rolling out their services only in their own regions. They’re doing so because they (naturally) don’t want to compete with one another. They like the cable model–where each city has one monopoly cable operator. You usually have the “choice” of one provider in any town–like Comcast,Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, or Cox. And they’d rather not have to compete with each other on the Internet. In a Time Warner Cable region–you have to pay TWC for a cable TV subscription there. Without competition from Comcast, which won’t provide you Xfinity.
So, in short, Comcast and Time Warner are trying to impose the cable TV model on the Internet. And to keep you paying those high cable bills.
If they succeed, then we’ll look back on this moment years from now as the moment the cable industry stifled competition from online TV–and imposed the cable TV model on another generation.