Comcast will let you replace your cable box with an app

Posted at 9:48 AM, Apr 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-21 11:49:17-04

Comcast will soon let its customers to bypass the cable box and get Xfinity service directly on their television sets or streaming media gadgets.

A new Comcast app will transform new Samsung smart TVs and Roku devices into quasi cable boxes. The app, which will be available later this year, will serve up live TV and on-demand video, just like Comcast’s X1 cable boxes do. Customers can also use the app to record shows on their virtual DVRs.

Existing Comcast customers who use the new app can return their boxes, saving the $10-a-month equipment fee they would otherwise have to pay to rent their set-top box.

“Our customers should be able to access their Xfinity TV cable service wherever they want, whenever they want, on whatever device they want,” Mark Hess, Comcast’s industry affairs chief, said in a statement.

Comcast hopes its new Xfinity TV Partner Program will eventually expand beyond Samsung and Roku. The new TV app is somewhat similar to the apps currently available on smartphones and tablets, which Comcast says have been downloaded 23 million times. But the new TV app more closely mirrors the experience you get from your cable box.

Time Warner Cable and other cable companies offer similar apps for smart TVs, as well as mobile and streaming devices. Comcast also had offered its Xfinity service over an Xbox app, but that deal only lasted a little over a year before it was disbanded.

The cable industry is expanding the availability of its services to mobile gadgets and smart TVs as customers increasingly use those devices for media consumption — and as they battle the growing cord-cutting trend.

Wednesday’s announcement was also meant to send a message to regulators.

In February, the FCC voted to start a public discussion about changing current set-top box requirements.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says he wants to give customers the option to choose between renting a set-top box from their cable company or getting another kind of compatible device on their own.

The FCC hopes to create a robust marketplace for video services, allowing customers to subscribe to a number of services and buy a gadget that can play all of them — including cable content. For example, you could search for a show and choose to watch it on your cable DVR, on live TV, on Netflix or any number of other services.

In a statement, the FCC criticized Comcast’s app plan, arguing that it’s just offering the same old Xfinity service on a different device.

“While we do not know all of the details of this announcement, it appears to offer only a proprietary, Comcast-controlled user interface and seems to allow only Comcast content on different devices, rather than allowing those devices to integrate or search across Comcast content as well as other content consumers subscribe to,” an FCC spokesman said in a statement.

The cable industry’s trade group, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, issued a statement praising Comcast for its “innovative marketplace solutions.” And Comcast says the FCC’s proposed rule change would “create substantial costs” and “take years to develop.”

“In light of the success of the apps-based model in the marketplace, the far-reaching government technical mandate being currently proposed by the FCC is unnecessary,” Comcast’s Hess said in his statement.