Subject: General Tech | October 5, 2017 - 04:23 PM | Tim Verry
Tagged: xfinity, streaming tv, iptv, data caps, cord cutting, Comcast
Comcast is hoping to entice its internet only customers to add cable TV and its current cable TV customers to not fully cut the cord with its new Xfinity Instant TV. The new streaming TV service starts at $18 (plus those darn broadcast/TV fees Comcast loves so much) and will soon be available to all current Comcast broadband subscribers. The base package includes access to local broadcast channels, a video on demand library, and a cloud DVR with 20 hours of storage. Users can stream live and on demand TV and movies using the Xfinity Stream application on mobile devices and Rokus, the browser-based website on desktops, or TV Everywhere logins at the individual networks' websites or apps (e.g. HBO Go).
For those looking for a bit more TV than what they can get over the air with an antenna, Comcast is offering three add-on packages for additional monthly fees as well as allowing users to add HBO and Starz for the standard rates ($15 for HBO). The tiers are laid out as follows:
Limited Basic (base package)
Popular broadcast channels (vary by market) including ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, PBS, Telemundo, Unimas, Univision, C-SPAN, and other public, education, and government (PEG) channels.
- Entertainment (+ $15/month):
- A&E, AMC, Animal Planet, BET, Bravo, Comedy Central, Discovery Channel, E!, Food Network, FX, FXX, Hallmark Channel, History, HGTV, Lifetime, OWN, SyFy, TBS, TNT, TV One, USA, and VHI
- Kids and Family (+ $10/month):
- Cartoon Network, Disney Channel, Disney Junior, Disney XD, Freeform, MTV, National Geographic Channel, Nick Jr., Nickelodeon, NickToons, Universal Kids, TeenNick, and TLC
- Sports and News (+ $30/month):
- CNBC, CNN, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN News, ESPNU, Fox Business, Fox News, Fox Sports 1, Golf Channel, MSNBC, NBC Sports, NFL Network, and regional sports that vary on market
Comcast has broken its channels into three main add-on packages that allow potential cord cutters to pick and choose what they want to pay for (though it's not full a la carte yet). Those packages are a bit pricey though if you only want some of the channels in the package, particularly the Sports and News package at $30 a month (and likely having to also pay the Sports broadcast fee regular cable customers have to pay whether they watch sports or not) which would be better broken out as separate packages and even the sports package could have regional channels broken out to its own add-on.
In another interesting twist though, Comcast announced that its new Xfinity Instant TV service will not count against users' data caps giving the service a marked advantage over IPTV competitors like YouTube TV, Hulu Live, PlayStation Vue, and others. If you live in a capped market, Instant TV starts to look a bit better price wise if you are a heavy data user as you could avoid data cap overage charges as a result of TV viewing.
On the other hand caveats include a limited DVR (though you can watch On Demand usually the next day) that can only record two shows simultaneously and live TV is, for the most part, limited to your own in-home network. When you are outside of your home network you will be limited to on demand streaming and recordings depending on licensing rights.
I think Comcast is hoping that the new service will entice cable TV holdouts wanting cheaper bills to stay in some fashion as well as entice internet only users and users that have cut the cord already to use Instant TV as a sort of gateway drug to traditional cable. Since they ahve to pay the same TV fees (though no fees for boxes), they might as well upgrade to X1 for a bit more and get more channels and more DVR--or at least that's the idea. I'm not convinced that plan will work though with the current pricing though. I suppose we will just have to wait and see!
What are your thoughts on Xfinity Instant TV? If you are interested in the service, you can check availability in your market (and Internet only customers can get a free 30-day trial) at www.xfinity.com/instant-tv.
YouTube Tries Everything
Back in March, Google-owned YouTube announced a new live TV streaming service called YouTube TV to compete with the likes of Sling, DirecTV Now, PlayStation Vue, and upcoming offerings from Hulu, Amazon, and others. All these services aim to deliver curated bundles of channels aimed at cord cutters that run over the top of customer’s internet only connections as replacements for or in addition to cable television subscriptions. YouTube TV is the latest entrant to this market with the service only available in seven test markets currently, but it is off to a good start with a decent selection of content and features including both broadcast and cable channels, on demand media, and live and DVR viewing options. A responsive user interface and generous number of family sharing options (six account logins and three simultaneous streams) will need to be balanced by the requirement to watch ads (even on some DVR’ed shows) and the $35 per month cost.
YouTube TV was launched in 5 cities with more on the way. Fortunately, I am lucky enough to live close enough to Chicago to be in-market and could test out Google’s streaming TV service. While not a full review, the following are my first impressions of YouTube TV.
Setup / Sign Up
YouTube TV is available with a one month free trail, after which you will be charged $35 a month. Sign up is a simple affair and can be started by going to tv.youtube.com or clicking the YouTube TV link from “hamburger” menu on YouTube. If you are on a mobile device, YouTube TV uses a separate app than the default YouTube app and weighs in at 9.11 MB for the Android version. The sign up process is very simple. After verifying your location, the following screens show you the channels available in your market and gives you the option of adding Showtime ($11) and/or Fox Soccer ($15) for additional monthly fees. After that, you are prompted for a payment method that can be the one already linked to your Google account and used for app purchases and other subscriptions. As far as the free trial, I was not charged anything and there was no hold on my account for the $35. I like that Google makes it easy to see exactly how many days you have left on your trial and when you will be charged if you do not cancel. Further, the cancel link is not buried away and is intuitively found by clicking your account photo in the upper right > Personal > Membership. Google is doing things right here. After signup, a tour is offered to show you the various features, but you can skip this if you want to get right to it.
In my specific market, I have the following channels. When I first started testing some of the channels were not available, and were just added today. I hope to see more networks added, and if Google can manage that YouTube TV and it’s $35/month price are going to shape up to be a great deal.
- ABC 7, CBS 2, Fox 32, NBC 5, ESPN, CSN, CSN Plus, FS1, CW, USA, FX, Free Form, NBC SN, ESPN 2, FS2, Disney, E!, Bravo, Oxygen, BTN, SEC ESPN Network, ESPN News, CBS Sports, FXX, Syfy, Disney Junior, Disney XD, MSNBC, Fox News, CNBC, Fox Business, National Geographic, FXM, Sprout, Universal, Nat Geo Wild, Chiller, NBC Golf, YouTube Red Originals
- Plus: AMC, BBC America, IFC, Sundance TV, We TV, Telemundo, and NBC Universal (just added).
- Optional Add-Ons: Showtime and Fox Soccer.
I tested YouTube TV out on my Windows PCs and an Android phone. You can also watch YouTube TV on iOS devices, and on your TV using an Android TVs and Chromecasts (At time of writing, Google will send you a free Chromecast after your first month). (See here for a full list of supported devices.) There are currently no Roku or Apple TV apps.
Each YouTube TV account can share out the subscription to 6 total logins where each household member gets their own login and DVR library. Up to three people can be streaming TV at the same time. While out and about, I noticed that YouTube TV required me to turn on location services in order to use the app. Looking further into it, the YouTube TV FAQ states that you will need to verify your location in order to stream live TV and will only be able to stream live TV if you are physically in the markets where YouTube TV has launched. You can watch your DVR shows anywhere in the US. However, if you are traveling internationally you will not be able to use YouTube TV at all (I’m not sure if VPNs will get around this or if YouTube TV blocks this like Netflix does). Users will need to login from their home market at least once every 3 months to keep their account active and able to stream content (every month for MLB content).
YouTube TV verifying location in Chrome (left) and on the android app (right).
On one hand, I can understand this was probably necessary in order for YouTube TV to negotiate a licensing deal, and their terms do seem pretty fair. I will have to do more testing on this as I wasn’t able to stream from the DVR without turning on location services on my Android – I can chalk this up to growing pains though and it may already be fixed.
Features & First Impressions
YouTube TV has an interface that is perhaps best described as a slimmed down YouTube that takes cues from Netflix (things like the horizontal scrolling of shows in categories). The main interface is broken down into three sections: Library, Home, and Live with the first screen you see when logging in being Home. You navigate by scrolling and clicking, and by pulling the menus up from the bottom while streaming TV like YouTube.