Comcast launches Internet TV service called “Stream”

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The Comcast logo is seen on a retail store in Sacramento, California on July 3, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Keys / The Desk)

The Comcast logo is seen on a retail store in Sacramento, California on July 3, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Keys / The Desk)

Comcast Corporation, the largest pay television company in the United States, has launched an Internet-only television service aimed at cord-cutters.

The new service, called “Comcast Stream,” will feature live and on-demand programming from around a dozen broadcast television networks including Comcast’s own NBC. Only one cable channel — HBO — will be offered to Stream subscribers at launch.

Stream is Comcast’s most-ambitious plan to target cord-cutters (people who have ditched pay television services for cheaper streaming services) and cord-nevers (people who have never paid for traditional linear television services). But Stream’s initial start will come with several limitations that could make it an unattractive option for people looking to save some money on television programming.

For one, Stream will only carry major broadcast networks like ABC, CBS, PBS and FOX as well as a handful of digital-only over-the-air networks, all of which can be viewed in most markets with an antenna. Stream will only be available in Comcast service areas, and customers will have to purchase Comcast Internet service in order to buy a Stream subscription.

Stream subscriptions will start at $15 a month. The service will be offered initially in Chicago, Boston and Seattle by the end of this year before rolling out to the entire Comcast service grid by next year.

Comcast’s move follows the booming popularity of streaming-only services like Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu Plus (the latter of which is partially owned by NBC Television Group, which is owned by Comcast). It also comes as some programmers seek to un-bundle themselves from traditional pay television services, some of whom have feuded with the likes of Comcast and others over the last few years.

Last year, CBS Corporation debuted their “CBS All Access” service after several CBS-owned stations were blacked out on Time Warner Cable across the country. CBS All Access, a $6 a month service, offers live feeds of CBS stations across the country coupled with a handful of current and past television series owned by the network.

Earlier this year, Dish Network launched “Sling TV,” a standalone streaming service that is most comparable to cable TV. Sling TV offers a handful of networks owned by Turner Broadcasting (TNT, TBS, CNN), Disney (Disney Channel, ABC Family, ESPN) and AMC Networks (AMC, IFC). A few weeks after launch, Dish announced that Sling would also offer one streaming feed of HBO as well as a number of on-demand programs from HBO’s library.

HBO and Showtime, two of the country’s most-prominent premium networks, have also launched Internet-only services focused at cord-cutters. In April, HBO debuted “HBO Now” on Apple-brand devices for $15 a month; Showtime debuted earlier this year as an iOS and Roku app for $11 a month (or $8 a month when bundled with Hulu Plus).

All of these services allow customers to watch streaming TV on their computers, mobile phones tablets or TV sets. But at launch, Comcast’s Stream will only be available on computers and mobile devices — customers who want to watch TV on their TV will have to sign up for Comcast’s traditional cable TV service or buy an antenna.

The limitations of Stream means the service is unlikely to be a hit with cord-cutters, even for those who only use Comcast for their Internet. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and a good old-fashioned antenna offer more choices with greater access and at a much cheaper rate.

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