Comcast's New Stream Sounds More Like a Trickle

Comcast really wants its Internet-only customers to get in on some television action, so it's launching a new streaming service called Stream. On the surface Stream sounds like a great idea: watch TV from any Internet-connected device. The problem is that Comcast doesn't get how its Internet-only customers want to watch shows and assumes they only want to remove the need for an actual television in their homes.

Comcast's Stream frees you from your TV, but not your home networkComcast's Stream frees you from your TV, but not your home network

Stream will launch as a beta in Boston at the end of summer and will extend to Seattle and Chicago by the end of the year. Comcast plans to make Stream available to all of its markets in early 2016. The service will set you back US$15 a month.

Comcast plans to offer a handful of networks such as NBC, Fox, and HBO. Customers will also get on demand movies, a cloud-based DVR, and TV Everywhere so they can use apps that otherwise need a cable TV subscription.

The service comes with two catches: You have to watch on your computer or mobile device, and it works only on your own Comcast Xfinity Internet connection. That means Stream only works in your own home and no TV watching when you travel.

It's pretty clear Comcast doesn't want to lose customers to Sling, Netflix, and even Apple's iTunes Store, but the company is missing out on a key element in the cord cutter's TV watching experience: It isn't just how we watch, but where we watch. Cord cutters—people who cancel cable television subscriptions for alternative viewing options—want to watch their shows on iPads and iPhones when they're on the road, and on their big screen TVs when they're home, neither of which is an option with Stream.

Some Stream subscribers will find workarounds to get what the watch back on their big screen TVs and will figure out how to trick Comcast into thinking they're on their home networks when they aren't. For everyone else, it may be easier just to stick with the alternatives they've already found.

Instead of feeling like an alternative to Comcast's regular subscription offerings, Stream feels more like a supplement for families who want an easy way to let their kids watch shows on iPads while mom and dad watch something else on the TV.

Despite its potential shortcomings, Stream shows Comcast gets that people don't want to always be tethered to their TV. If they figure out people don't want to be tethered to their home network, too, then Sling may have some real competition.