Seven months after introducing AnyPlay in Nashville and Denver, Comcast has finally announced the wide rollout of its service enabling live TV streaming to a variety of devices in the home.
Serving effectively as an in-home QAM-to-IP gateway, the AnyPlay device receives subscribers' QAM formatted channels from the broadcast cable network, and transcodes these channels into IP for delivery exclusively over the home WiFi network. Initially launched for the iPad, AnyPlay now supports Android tablets running version 3.0 or higher of the Android OS.
The AnyPlay service is available for $10 per month, and requires a subscription to XFINITY Starter Video and XFINITY Performance Internet.
More broadly, Comcast's wide-scale AnyPlay rollout is certain to re-ignite the polemic around optimal IP video delivery, and business model selection. Typically, operators deliver IP video in one of two ways - video is either transcoded at the headend and natively delivered as IP over a broadband network, or is broadcast to an in-home gateway, locally transcoded, and piped around the home. While many cable and IPTV operators select the former approach and choose to leverage the resource of owning a broadband access network, Comcast is seemingly caught between two methods - the operator delivers linear TV via dedicated in-home hardware, but relies on its access network to deliver on-demand TV and movies. Despite appearances, this strategy is anything but incoherent - by leaving linear TV within the broadcast QAM portion of its network, Comcast is avoiding the bandwidth inefficiency of QAM+IP simulcast, and is effectively taxing subscribers' consumption of 3rd party IP-video. From a data cap perspective, Comcast-delivered IP-video is costless relative to a subscriber's accessing 3rd-party-delivered IP-video.
Nonetheless, AnyPlay is not costless in a purely nominal sense. Choosing to charge a standalone fee, Comcast is breaking with the approach taken by Time Warner, DIRECTV, Cablevision, Cox, and Dish Network, and indeed, with its own approach to on-demand streaming to iOS, Android, and PCs. While the major US operators have freely bundled live TV streaming into their traditional, subscription pay-TV packages, Comcast is taking a stab at directly monetizing its multiscreen service. In so doing, the operator is betting quite heavily that quality of its streaming offer - which, critically, is bolstered by protected regional monopolies - will be enough to discourage churn among subscribers who value access to linear TV on their portable devices.
Comcast has been improving its subscriber losses in recent quarters and with a more comprehensive TV Everywhere solution, the nation's largest pay TV provider is looking to keep the momentum going. The question is whether or not as the economy recovers we will see growth again in cable services. Comcast, like all other major pay-TV operators, is preparing for just such a day.