In an attempt to stop a growing number of TV viewers who are bypassing cable to watch free television and movies online, Comcast has rolled out its attempted solution — authenticated cable TV on the Internet.
Part of the TV Anywhere initiative, the new beta test is being called Fancast Xfinity TV. Though Comcast, one of the nation’s largest cable operators, called it a major step toward “anytime, anywhere media,” the experiment is actually limited to its own paying customers for both cable services and broadband. The service is not free or available to the public.
Comcast is seeking to ensure that its subscribers stay connected to cable programming, even if they watch the programs on their computers. Comcast customers will log in to the Xfinity service via Comcast.net or Fancast.com and will have to install a program before using the service for the first time. The sites rely on an authentication system to block nonsubscribers.
Since Xfinity is available only to Comcast cable subscribers, the service will include premium shows that aren’t on Hulu, an online site for free TV viewing. Comcast’s partners in the service include A&E, AMC, Discovery Channel, History, TLC and TNT.
The authentication system will also determine which channels each subscriber has access to. Comcast has been testing the service since last summer. Within the next six months, the cable operator hopes to expand the service to all 24 million of its video subscribers.
Comcast’s plan met immediate criticism from public advocacy groups. Marvin Ammori, senior adviser at Free Press, said the TV Everywhere model indicates that Comcast wants competition nowhere. “These are transparent efforts to preserve the cable cartel that gouges consumers,” said Ammori. “Comcast wants to be the gatekeeper to the video programming world. This service is a threat to innovative online video and an attempt by the industry to impose the cable-TV model onto the Internet.”