Much like TiVo transitioned from rival to partner in the cable industry, Netflix is now crossing over into the cable friend zone... or at least the frenemy zone.
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) confirmed today they are working together to integrate the Netflix over-the-top video service into the Comcast X1 pay-TV platform. Numerous smaller operators have done the same in the US but the fact that Comcast -- with its 22.4 million TV customers -- is jumping on the Netflix bandwagon marks a major shift in the video landscape.
Recode was the first to report the Comcast/Netflix deal, which Comcast then confirmed to Light Reading.
In a statement, Comcast said: "Comcast and Netflix have reached an agreement to incorporate Netflix into X1, providing seamless access to the great content offered by both companies. We have much work to do before the service will be available to consumers later this year. We'll provide more details at that time."
The deal between Comcast and Netflix will not mirror agreements Netflix has made with other US cable operators. Typically, Netflix has made itself available as an app on leased TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) boxes, but not on more traditional set-tops like those manufactured by Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS) and Technicolor (Euronext Paris: TCH; NYSE: TCH). Comcast, however, doesn't use TiVo hardware for its X1 platform. (See Netflix Cracks Top 10 MSO and Netflix Streams Onto US Cable.)
In all likelihood, Comcast will still implement Netflix as a separate app on its set-tops, but the cable company does have the option of including the OTT service as a channel within its X1 program guide, much the way Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) has integrated Hulu LLC 's service into its Optimum TV channel lineup. (See Hulu Joins Cablevision Lineup.)
There are several interesting ways to look at the integration. On the one hand, Netflix is gaining a massive new distribution channel. On the other hand, it's positioning itself with Comcast as a premium channel like HBO rather than as a rival (if also complimentary) TV service.
For yet another perspective, consider that Netflix is increasingly hedging its bets as both a content provider and a content distributor. If that sounds familiar, it's because Comcast -- with NBCUniversal LLC and other content holdings -- is doing exactly the same thing.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading