Comcast Streams Back to School

Mari Silbey
News Analysis
Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video

Comcast has officially taken the wraps off of Xfinity on Campus, a streaming video service for college campuses that delivers approximately 80 live TV channels and thousands of on-demand titles to students' Internet-connected devices -- no set-top required.

The free Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) service initially launched as a trial at Boston's Emerson College in 2013. Starting this fall, Xfinity on Campus will become available at Bridgewater College, Drexel University, Lasell College and the University of Delaware. Comcast notes that several additional schools, including Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of New Hampshire, will also test the service this year. A spokesperson added that the MSO "can scale the service to hundreds more within our footprint."

Comcast isn't the first US company to target college campuses with a streaming video service. Startup company Philo (formerly Tivli) has already lined up at least nine university customers for its IP-based, multiscreen TV solution, including Fort Hays State, Harvard, Pepperdine, Roanoke, Stanford, University of Washington, Wesleyan, William Patterson, and Yale. Philo's financial backers include Home Box Office Inc. (HBO) and Mark Cuban's Radical Investments fund.

Philo has one key advantage over Comcast in that it's not limited to an existing service footprint. However, Philo's system for aggregating pay-TV content is far more complex.

In some cases, Philo collects over-the-air TV signals from an antenna owned by the host university and retransmits them over IP. (The closed university network keeps Philo from running afoul of copyright laws.) In other cases, Philo partners with a local pay-TV provider that has already paid retransmission fees. And in still other cases, Philo partners with programmers directly. The company signed a deal with HBO for example, to give Harvard students access to HBO Go.

From a features standpoint, the Philo service includes a cloud-based interactive program guide and DVR capabilities. Students can't access video away from school, however, as the service is restricted to campus grounds. (See Tales of Tivli: Taking TVE to School.)

Xfinity on Campus doesn't include DVR service yet, but Comcast says that feature is on the way. The Comcast offering also lets students watch TV off school grounds by signing in to TV Everywhere sites with their university credentials. Subscribers can add paid channels to the service, including HBO, Showtime, Starz and a Sports Entertainment Package that features "popular channels like ESPN Goal Line."

Get the latest updates on new IP video services by visiting Light Reading's IP video content channel.

With younger cohorts gravitating more toward free online entertainment, cable companies are anxious to woo college students with attractive premium television services. The idea is that if the operators can hook students while they're still young, they can set a pattern for television subscription that extends beyond the college years. Even though Comcast's university service is free, the investment in young viewers has the potential to produce lucrative returns over the long term.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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