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Comcast Takes IP Video to School

Aiming to make a pay TV connection with tech-savvy, always on-the-go college students, Comcast has formally launched Xfinity on Campus, a managed IP-delivered, multiscreen video service that’s designed to run on Web browsers, tablets and smartphones.

The authenticated service, which is powered by Comcast’s cloud-based X1 platform and had previously been in the trial phase, delivers a lineup of about 80 live channels, access to certain premium TV services and a menu of video-on-demand titles, all via the campus network.

The service, which relies on adaptive bit rate techniques that adjust the quality and resolution of the video stream based on the target device and the amount of capacity available on the network, is accessible via WiFi at XfinityOnCampus.com and via an app for iOS devices. An Android version is in the works. Students gain access to the service by inputting their credentials.

Comcast is also working on IP set-tops for the service that would connect directly to TVs.

In a twist that was not available during the initial wave of on-campus trials, Comcast this fall will also start allowing Xfinity on Campus subscribers to use third-party TV Everywhere apps and services such as WatchESPN, FXNOW and HBO Go. Comcast expects to eventually integrate its own TVE app, Xfinity TV Go, with its university- tailored service.

Comcast will also pair the Xfinity on Campus service with the operator’s new cloud DVR service as it expands that capability into more regions. Comcast has already introduced its cloud DVR service in several markets, including Atlanta, Chicago, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. That service will also allow students to “check out” and download cloud-recorded programs to mobile devices and watch them on the go.

The new student-tailored service debuts as Comcast and other cable operators are trying new ways to reach Millennials and an overall group of young consumers who are not only used to watching video on mobile devices, but have previously cut the cord or have never subscribed to a pay TV service. A media and technology study issued by Deloitte earlier this year indicated that just 44% of video viewing among Millennials in the 14-24 age group was done on televisions, while the majority of their viewing was done on some type of mobile device, such as a laptop, tablet or smartphone.

Comcast is launching Xfinity on Campus with a handful of schools this fall, with two others on board to test out the system (see sidebar). But the plan in the years ahead is to have all universities in Comcast’s footprint take advantage of the new platform and to use Xfinity on Campus to attract new college partners, Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president of consumer services for Comcast Cable, said.

“We’re excited about the opportunity that it creates. It’s kind of a new manifestation of what a cable service can be,” Jenckes said. “We think it’s very relevant to students … who want to consume television on their terms. It also serves as a great way to introduce ourselves to our next generation of customers.”

For a university to be technologically eligible for the new offering, the local market must already have Comcast’s “cloud-to-ground” streaming service for X1, which essentially replicates the MSO’s traditional video packages and delivers them over IP to any device in a customer’s home. Comcast expects to have that capability launched in the majority of its service area by the end of the year.

For Xfinity on Campus, Comcast is connecting to university partner networks via its fiber-based, business-class Ethernet platform.

Comcast isn’t revealing pricing, but the Xfinity on Campus service is included with room and board for students who live in on-campus housing. Students also have the option to subscribe to HBO, Showtime and Starz, as well as a sports tier that features channels such as ESPN Goal Line.

Comcast, which has yet to include its premium multiscreen Streampix service in its university-focused offering, is also considering adding an international channel package to its Xfinity on Campus slate.

Comcast isn’t the only company that has its video eye fixed on college students. Philo, a Boston-based startup that counts HBO and Mark Cuban among its backers, has developed a similar on-campus IP video platform. Philo has said it has deals with “dozens” of schools, including Yale University, Fort Hays State University, the University of Washington, Roanoke College, Harvard University, Wesleyan University, Pepperdine University and William Paterson University of New Jersey.

Cool for School

With Xfinity on Campus reaching the commercial rollout stage, Comcast hopes to extend the reach of its IP-delivered service to more universities in its footprint. Following are the schools on board for this fall.

Launching
Bridgewater College, Bridgewater, Va.

Drexel University, Philadelphia

Emerson College, Boston

Lasell College, Newton, Mass.

University of Delaware, Newark, Del.

Trialing

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

University of New Hampshire, Durham, N.H.