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How Comcast Is Trying to Convince Students That Cable Is Cool

Millennials do watch linear television.

So says Comcast, which this semester has expanded its Xfinity on Campus program to almost thirty universities from seven a year ago.

Xfinity on Campus provides students living on campus with access to 80 channels of live and on-demand programming on laptops, tablets and smart phones in addition to wired TV sets in dorms.

The product is crucial to Comcast at a time when the industry is fretting about declining numbers of pay-TV subscribers because of cord cutting by younger consumers who prefer online video to traditional television.

“The service allowed us to introduce students to our next generation products, services and technologies,” said Marcien Jenckes, executive VP, consumer services at Comcast Cable.

“For a big part of America, when they think about cable television, they think about a service that an Xfinity customer doesn’t get anymore because we’ve evolved it so much,” Jenckes said. “It’s really important for prospective customers to understand that and know that when you subscribe to Comcast Xfinity service you’re getting content that you can consume on any platform, you’re getting content that you can dial up on demand that’s easily searchable and that is ultimately a very good value proposition.”

On campus, students are using Xfinity on Campus to watch programming predominantly on laptops. Even though this generation is used to being able to watch what they want when they want on demand, they’re also watching live TV.

“The interesting thing is that if you give students access to live TV, they actually watch it,” said Jeremy Andreoli, executive director of video services for Comcast Cable. The bulk of what they watch live is sports. Of the top 20 shows watched live during the last school year, 10 were sports and 78% of time spent watching was sports.

On-demand was also popular. Among students, the most popular shows were Game of Thrones, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Big Bang Theory and Modern Family. Xfinity on Campus was tailored toward the behavior of younger viewers.

Comcast is hoping college viewers will become cable customers when they graduate. The company as created a product based on Xfinity on Campus called Stream, which is being tested in Boston and aimed at a new generation of broadband-first consumers.

Stream offers a skinny bundle of programming that includes ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and HBO plus access to TV Everywhere apps that can be watched on laptops, phones and tablets for $15 a month. The product includes on-demand content and cloud-based DVR functionality.

“The Stream service has components where you get free trial just so people understand that the version of a cable service that we’re selling in the marketplace today isn’t your parent’s cable service,” Jenckes said. “It’s the cable service that your behavior and your preferences are demanding.”

This year, Xfinity on Campus will have additional features, including DVR functionality and access to the Xfinity app and website (last year, students had a special app and website).

Students also have the ability to buy additional programming, including premium channels and sports packages. Comcast says about 15% of students bought additional services.

Comcast sells Xfinity on Demand to colleges as a bulk product. The cost is included in on-campus room and board, which means it is mainly being paid for by parents. Just under 50% of students on campuses that offered Xfinity on Campus used the service.

Michele Kane, associate director of residence life & housing at the University of Delaware says students liked being able to get away from their dorm room to watch the shows they wanted to watch, alone if they chose. They could watch on the quad, in the library, doing laundry. “Hopefully not in a classroom,” she adds.

Comcast expects to accelerate the growth in the number of universities offering Xfinity on Campus.

The execs say that some colleges—like Delaware—that had stopped being Comcast customers have come back because of the new service.

Jon has been business editor of Broadcasting+Cable since 2010. He focuses on revenue-generating activities, including advertising and distribution, as well as executive intrigue and merger and acquisition activity. Just about any story is fair game, if a dollar sign can make its way into the article. Before B+C, Jon covered the industry for TVWeek, Cable World, Electronic Media, Advertising Age and The New York Post. A native New Yorker, Jon is hiding in plain sight in the suburbs of Chicago.