Comcast’s Xfinity Fail
When Comcast announced their nationwide Xfinity initiative, I greeted it with skepticism and that has only grown over time. Their “Fancast” website, now dubbed xfinity tv, has surprisingly crappy quality and I’m on a 16mbps down/2mbps up internet connection through Comcast. It’s so bad that I would opt for my AppleTV, Mac mini running Boxee, or the Roku box downstairs in a nanosecond before I’d watch this poor excuse for HD.
As an old mentor of mine always said, “Whenever there is great flux, there is great opportunity” and mine is to explore cutting the cable like so many other people are doing. This Wall Street Journal article positions cable cutting as consumers cutting costs in an economic downturn, but I believe it’s because cable isn’t delivering, they’re jamming too many costs down our throat for programming we don’t watch anyway, and there are so many preferable on-demand alternatives that people are cutting cable regardless of whether they have budget woes or not.
In my view, it’s crappy service and experience making most of us want to cut the cable. In my neighborhood we probably have more HDTVs per capita than anywhere in the Twin Cities. Lots of 30-n-40 somethings, bunches of technoweenies, and a demographic right in the sweet spot of a vendor like Comcast, but their nationwide Xfinity rollout is causing us nothing but problems:
- Digital channels that break up, becoming pixelated with audio dropouts making shows unwatchable (see “Comcast’s Oscar Fail“)
- A digital video recorder with the worst user interface I’ve ever used, making the first TiVo 10 years ago feel cutting edge like today’s iPad
- An OnDemand system that is painful to use due to the lag time and constantly running (and loud) “commercial” for movies that plays while you browse with no ability to turn it off
- The changeover from analog to all digital occurring now (so Comcast can pack many more new Xfinity services over their cable) that takes away HD viewing on TVs without a digital box connected to them AND a whole house distribution system that simply “isn’t available in your neighborhood” forcing us all to hang a bunch of crappy little analog-to-digital boxes on every TV in the house.
The biggest problems? There are two….
Problem #1: Bandwidth cap
As you know if you’re up on all things technical, Comcast has in place a 250GB cap on bandwidth use. Even though I primarily stream NetFlix and a few tech shows that usage, combined with our normal internet use, shows that we’ve so far consumed 105GB (42%) of our bandwidth allocation in just 11 days!
If you don’t think this is going to become a huge issue, just wait until GoogleTV, the Boxee box and more devices that enable us to watch HD content ship. Comcast will be placed in the position of gatekeeper and you’ll have to decide: do I watch TV or use my internet connection? They’ll undoubtedly use this as a blunt instrument to bludgeon us in to continuing as subscribers to the cable content most of us don’t watch anyway, or be forced in to watching internet TV with their woefully inadequate “Fancast, now Xfinity” online service.
Problem #2: Authentication
This nearly one year old GigaOM article outlines the authentication problem well:
Let’s start with Comcast’s authentication process, which is the biggest stumbling block for Xfinity. To authenticate with the service, you have to download and install on your computer a client application that phones home to Comcast to confirm that you’re a subscriber and figure out what content you have access to. Each Comcast account can add up to three devices that can access Xfinity content, and each one has to have the Comcast Access client installed. In theory, this should be a seamless process, but in practice it involves a number of steps that could keep subscribers from being able to use the service.
That’s right kids. You have to be “authenticated” if you want to watch Xfinity’s “TV Anywhere” service. If you decide to cut the cable and just watch internet programming, Comcast can shut off your ability to watch any programming that they offer over their cable TV subscription. Did that sink in? Let me say it again another way. Say NetFlix does a deal to offer TV shows one hour after they appear on network TV channels. You come home after a hard day at work to catch Dancing With the Stars an hour after it airs. You fire up your AppleTV and go to the ABC TV app, launch it and this error message appears, “We regret to inform you that this programming is offered through your cable internet connection exclusively through Comcast Cable Television Services and therefore you are not authenticated to view it on any other device or service. Please contact customer service with any questions or concerns.“
(See UPDATE below)
There’s a War Going On
“Not gonna happen” you say? Fox being blocked by Time Warner Cable these past few weeks—and their subsequent agreement as detailed here—demonstrate the stakes in this game. Any provider of anything that remotely smacks of TV or movies is at war, and you and I are likely to be collateral damage unless we make certain our voices are heard and vote with our pocketbooks.
Remember, it’s not who is right or wrong in this war…it’s who has the biggest tanks, the most guns, and the smartest generals who know how to use them. But like any war, if you’re Comcast you focus on cutting off the supply lines of the enemy (i.e., the 250GB cap); strengthen your alliances by buying one of the biggest strategic “chips” on the table (i.e., acquiring NBC); and then offer up some alternative (i.e., Fancast/Xfinity) so that when Congress gets involved in minimizing the collateral damage (i.e., you and me) that they can point to what they’re offering and simply use that well-worn, bullshit line:
“It’s good for the consumer”
No…it is not. If Xfinity rocked, if Comcast’s moves to “authenticate” and “control with a cap” our use didn’t exist, I might think differently. But Comcast’s moves are so laughingly obvious that it does nothing but make me angry and highly focused on finding a way to unsubscribe from Comcast cable TV.
UPDATE: When I posted my blog automatically sends out a tweet and I included @ComcastCares, Comcast’s social media monitoring group. This post was apparently routed to Comcast Minnesota immediately. Shortly thereafter a guy I know who handles some marketing aspects for Comcast in our region called me. He updated me on the Authentication problem and detailed that it no longer uses a “Comcast Access client”.
Unfortunately, that was a sort of “Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?” sort of response. Nothing about the four bullet points at the top of the post and the quality (or lack thereof) of the DVR interface, pixelated breaking up and so on; nothing about the bandwidth cap and it being an anti-competitive move; nothing about the fact that only 3 devices can be used within a household and have to be authenticated with the system.
BTW, I followed 100% of the Xfinity system requirements, have a fast connection, etc., and the quality is still horrible.
I stand by the essence of the post, Comcast, and find your request for the Comcast Access client “correction” a nit.
About Steve Borsch
Connecting the Dots Podcast
Podcasting hit the mainstream in July of 2005 when Apple added podcast show support within iTunes. I'd seen this coming so started podcasting in May of 2005 and kept going until August of 2007. Unfortunately was never 'discovered' by national broadcasters, but made a delightfully large number of connections with people all over the world because of these shows. Click here to view the archive of my podcast posts.