As usual, this week when I arrived at my office, there was one more player in the OTT space that wasn’t there before. This time, it was cable giant and NBC Universal owner Comcast throwing its hat into the ring with a virtual pay-TV offering dubbed Stream.
While the announcement checked all of the boxes for qualifying as big news, and the service itself checks all of the boxes that consumers expect in an OTT product, the reaction from the industry has been underwhelming.
It’s easy to see why. Comcast’s service closely resembles Dish Network’s own Sling TV, which has already become popular among cord-cutters. Though since Comcast would surely rather sell you a cable TV subscription featuring hundreds of channels at full cost, they seem to have done their best to hamstring what might otherwise have been an exciting product.
You can learn a lot about Comcast’s objective by looking at some of the head-scratching decisions made with Stream. For starters, the service is only available to Comcast internet subscribers. Rather than try to lure in some new users, it seems to be a pure retention play.
Now a customer frustrated with their pay-TV subscription from Comcast can instead opt for a virtual pay-TV subscription from Comcast. I’m sure that made sense to someone in the company’s Philadelphia HQ, but it’s hard for the rest of us to picture.
In addition to requiring Comcast’s internet service, Stream will only work on a subscriber’s home wifi network. Somehow Comcast has managed to combine the freedom of being able to watch live TV on a smartphone or tablet with the immobility of an old fashioned television set.
As Brad Reed at BGR points out, anyone who wants to watch broadcast television in their own home can do so with an HDTV antenna at absolutely no cost. Meanwhile, Sling TV offers more channels and far more flexibility for just $5 more per month.
Striking a Balance
Comcast is facing the same dilemma as other OTT players. Just before last month’s TV of Tomorrow conference in San Francisco, I remember having a conversation with the iTV Doctor, Rick Howe, about the challenge of creating a platform that would be able to gain traction with both content creators and consumers.
However, as Comcast may soon discover, that balance between the two isn’t just a suggestion, it’s essential, because you can’t have one without the other.
In going so far to protect their own legacy business, and push would-be customers towards their traditional pay-TV subscriptions, Comcast has created a service that may appear to serve their interests, but makes very little sense for consumers.
In order to succeed in the new television environment, these old traditional media companies are going to have to learn to adapt to changing consumer tastes, not try to change their tastes themselves by making getting what they want a complete hassle.
Common Sense Solutions
Believe it or not, everything the networks and studios need to succeed is already at their fingertips. While it might be tempting to believe that they need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to save themselves, that just isn’t the case.
Their content is already digital, and it’s largely already online. The key is in reimagining this new normal as an opportunity rather than a threat, and taking full advantage of an eager online audience that wants all that content and is willing pay for it, rather than losing sleep over every lost pay-TV sub.
FreeCast exists to help big media companies do just that, quickly, affordably, and easily, thanks to a subscriber base of over 4 million users, many of whom are cord-cutters.
We’ve reached so many users in just two years, with a fraction of the money or resources that have gone lackluster offerings like Comcast’s Stream.
Were FreeCast a cable company, we’d rank among the top 10 in terms of number of subscribers. However, if we had managed a budget the size of those needed to create a service like Stream or Sling TV, we’d already have a global subscriber base that could rival all top 10 combined.
While I certainly understand the numerous licenses, affiliations, and other limitations that stand in the way, it still amazes me that these giant companies are spending so much money to recreate what’s already right in front of them. Virtual pay-TV, by definition, is basically just cable for the web. If they could just put the content that they already have online and let consumers pay for it à la carte, they’d have a home run, for a fraction of the price, and consumers would love them for it.
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