Cable subscriptions have yet to see any kind of significant decline in the United States, but the companies that provide them are beginning to see which way the wind is blowing. Comcast has thrown its hat into the Internet streaming video ring, currently dominated by services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Instant Video. Comcast Stream will let viewers watch Comcast programming without a cable TV subscription — sort of.
Comcast announced the Stream service on its corporate website. Here's how it works: Each month, you pay Comcast $15, and you can then watch a number of TV channels on your phone, tablet or computer.
As attractive as that may sound, though, it's not as good of a deal as it may seem. The only channels you get are basic broadcast networks and HBO. Furthermore, as Stream has no app on streaming boxes or game consoles, there's no easy way to watch this programming on your TV. Users can screen-mirror it, sign up for individual channel streaming services (like HBO Go) with their Comcast credentials or hook up their devices directly to their TVs.
There's also the question of whether the asking price is worth it. Fifteen dollars per month is significantly more than a service like Netflix ($9 per month), and most of what Stream provides is free content. A high-quality HD antenna usually costs no more than $50, and displays network content right on your TV.
Users could argue that the inclusion of HBO alone makes it worthwhile, as HBO's standalone HBO Now service costs $15 per month by itself. On the other hand, HBO Now is available everywhere, while at present, Comcast Stream will only be available in Boston later this summer, followed by Chicago and Seattle after that. It should be available nationwide by early next year.
Stream may be too expensive and too limited in channel selection to really compete with cable replacement streaming services like Sling TV or PlayStation Vue. However, the gesture itself is telling. If the largest cable company in the country wants to offer a streaming service, the days of cable TV's hegemony might be about to enter a more precipitous decline.