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Comcast's new streaming service is not as terrible as you might think

Jared Newman | July 24, 2015
Heaven help me; I'm about to defend Comcast.

But this comparison misses an important point about Comcast Stream: Unlike the company's traditional bundles, Stream is apparently free of hidden fees, sneaky teaser rates, and outrageous hardware rental costs.

When you look at the fine print, Comcast's TV + Broadband package actually costs $58.50 per month with an HD set-top box and broadcast TV fees. After one year, the price jumps by $20 per month, and by another $5 to $10 per month the year after that. Stream ends up costing about the same price, but with DVR service included.

Taking a different angle

If we look at the big picture, Comcast seems to have realized what's wrong with cable TV. It's not just the idea of paying for hundreds of channels you don't want, but the underhanded sales tactics, the clunky hardware, and the exhausting song-and-dance of figuring out what your monthly bill will actually be. An entire generation of TV watchers is growing up outside of this twisted system through streaming alternatives such as Netflix and YouTube. The best way for Comcast to reach them now is to start from scratch.

Perhaps this is overly optimistic, but Stream could be the start of a new kind of cable-TV service. Comcast has already talked about adding optional channel packages and letting users swap HBO for a different premium channel. It's not hard to imagine a cable-like service arising with greater flexibility and up-front pricing, based on the idea that you provide your own hardware. This won't appease the hardcore a la carte crowd, but it would be far better than the system that exists now.

To be clear, Comcast Stream hasn't even launched yet--it'll hit Boston later this summer, followed by Seattle and Chicago; it won't reach all of Comcast's markets until 2016--and there are endless ways in which Comcast could screw it up. (The use of a "managed network" for Stream videos, for instance, seems like exactly the type of thing net neutrality rules are supposed to prevent.)

Still, I'm not cynical enough to think a cable company can never redeem itself. Comcast's problem was that it never had any motivation to do so thanks to years of cushy duopoly status. But with competition rising all around it on the video front, this could be Comcast's best chance at a clean slate.

 

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