No. 1 US cable operator Comcast is furthering its TV Everywhere strategy with the Xfinity TV app for the Apple iPad, which will let Comcast Xfinity subscribers watch TV and movies anywhere, either over 3G or Wi-Fi.
The move is the latest by the MSO to stem the subscriber losses that has plagued it in the last two quarters.
Comcast execs demonstrated the app at the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco, and characterised the rollout as a gradual ramp-up of functionality. Initially the widget, which will be available in the App Store this week, will act as a TV guide and DVR programmer, and enable customers to change TV channels directly from the iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.
Users can also sort content based on different filters like networks or genres such as films, kids and sports, or by HD content. They can also search by keyword or by alphabetical title in the TV listings or within the On Demand section.
In December, iPad users will have the exclusive ability to watch films and TV shows directly on the device. Future enhancements, listed only as “coming soon,” will allow users to personalise viewing with a ‘MyTV’ feature to create a ‘Watchlist’ of favorite TV shows and movies. The ability to seamlessly access social networking sites to share what they're watching with others is another enhancement that will be added later.
Android and BlackBerry versions are also coming soon, the operator said.
The launch is somewhat of a shot across the bow to IPTV rivals AT&T and Verizon, which have both launched their own iOS apps for U-verse and FiOS respectively. AT&T’s app only works with iPhone and only over Wi-Fi, not 3G, while the FiOS app for iPad is only available within the home, again only over Wi-Fi. And Verizon’s latest TV Everywhere/digital content locker move is an app called FlexView, a download-only service which is actually 3G-enabled, but doesn’t support iOS at all.
The competitive landscape is worth keeping in mind as cable in general continues to suffer subscriber losses in the face of a very soft jobs market in the United States. Sweetening the pot for existing subscribers to mitigate churn and adding new reasons for consumers to consider adding a cable subscription is spurring a new wave of multi-screen strategies that allow users to leverage their content anywhere they are. Licensing arrangements and formatting considerations are ongoing hurdles however when it comes to commercialising the concept and the industry could be said to be locked in a race for first-mover advantage.
"This Xfinity TV app is part of a much larger effort to reinvent the way consumers interact with their televisions by transforming the way they search, navigate, discover and share entertainment," said Neil Smit, president of Comcast Cable, in a statement. "The remote control hasn't changed in years and this app will enable millions of consumers to instantly search thousands of live TV and On Demand choices and also watch the best content whenever and wherever they want."
Initially, Comcast will offer hit shows and blockbuster movies from the top premium networks on the app. In the coming weeks and months, the app will continue to expand its content and functionality through a series of regular development updates. It will include thousands of additional entertainment choices, added remote control features and enhanced search across platforms, the company said.