Comcast appeals to ‘cord nevers’ with launch of Xfinity Instant TV service

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Comcast’s own streaming service aimed at cord cutters and more so the ‘cord nevers’ who never sign up for cable, has now launched. The service, Xfinity Instant TV, is only available to Comcast’s broadband subscribers, where it aims to take on other over-the-top offerings like Sling TV, YouTube TV, Hulu Live TV and others, by offering a cheaper “skinny bundle” of local broadcast networks, starting at $18 per month. The service also includes a video-on-demand library, and DVR with 20 hours of storage.

The differentiator between Xfinity Instant TV and some of its streaming rivals is that it packages all the major broadcast networks into its core offering, including ABC, CBS, CW, Fox, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, Unimas, and Univision, plus all public, education and governmental (PEG) channels. But access to top cable networks like ESPN, AMC, A&E, and Disney Channel aren’t in the introductory package.

This should appeal to those consumers hesitant to cut the cord because they would otherwise be missing live sports and news. But it also largely appeals to those who don’t yet pay for cable TV – only broadband – but struggle to find ways to watch live, local programming. (A digital antenna can offer this, of course, but not everyone gets all the channels clearly, nor do they like the aesthetics of mounting an antenna in their home.)

“Cord nevers” may also avoid traditional cable because they don’t want to pay for larger packages with channels they don’t need. That’s led to the rise of “skinny bundles” from traditional pay TV providers and over-the-top streaming service alike.

However, Comcast’s is different from the skinny bundle Sling TV offers, which makes cheap access (it starts at $20 per month) to several cable channels – like ESPN – a key selling point for its base package.

Meanwhile, Xfinity Instant TV subscribers get broadcast channels to start, then can opt to upgrade their bundle to include the networks they want by buying from a mix of add-ons.

To give you an idea: a $15 per month “entertainment” add-on will bring A&E, AMC, Comedy Central, Discovery, Food Network, TBS, TNT and USA. The $10 “kids and family” add-on offers Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, MTV, Nickelodeon, and TLC. (See bundle charts below). And the $30 “Sports & News” add-on includes top cable news stations plus ESPN’s channels, Fox Sports, Golf Channel, NBC Sports, NFL Network and Regional Sports networks.

While broadcast channels will have national sports, and some markets may air local sports on the PEG channels, the true sports fan would want the add-on package here. And that will make the service a bit pricier ($30 + the base $18).

Premium cable networks HBO ($15 per month) and Starz ($12 per month) are also available as optional upgrades.

The service is largely a rebranding of Comcast’s existing Stream service, which has been in testing in select U.S. markets, including Boston and Chicago.

When Comcast’s top video exec Matt Strauss confirmed the new service’s name and a few details earlier this year, he had said that the entry-level pricing would be $15 per month. But Comcast execs later noted that the pricing was still in flux. As it turned out, the company decided to inch up the starting price a little more.

Like many of the other live TV streaming services on the market, Xfinity Instant TV will also offer subscribers the ability to watch video-on-demand programming for the channels they pay for, and it lets them record programs to a cloud DVR. Pay-per-view and the ability to rent or purchase movies and TV shows is not available at launch.

The service supports up to two simultaneous streams, and unlike Hulu, there’s no way to pay to add more streams for an additional fee. But with two streams, you can record two shows at the same time, or watch one while recording another.

Unfortunately, not all channels will stream when you’re out of the home – a limitation that most live TV services don’t have. That’s due to the way Comcast has negotiated the rights for its streaming TV service. (Comcast TV Everywhere rights apply here). Instead, when you’re not connected to your home wi-fi, you can only watch DVR recordings and TV Go content.

Again, the service is something Comcast is hoping to upsell to its broadband-only customers, rather than market more broadly. Nor is it likely to lure many customers away from rivals like Sling TV, Vue, AT&T’s DirecTV Now, Hulu Live TV, or YouTube TV.

At launch, viewers watch Xfinity Instant TV via a computer, smartphone or Roku player, the website says, though the supported device lineup should improve in time.

Xfinity Instant TV subscribers will also need a compatible gateway (required for internet or IP cable, including Xfinity Instant TV), which is $10 per month, but you can opt to bring your own and save the fee.

The service is currently in beta, but will roll out across Comcast’s nationwide footprint over the next two weeks.