Comcast Woos Young Eyeballs With Campus IP Video Service

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By Tim McElgunn

Sept. 9— Comcast is expanding an online TV subscription service for college students in a bid to lure millenials to its programming.

The company is adding 21 schools to the list of universities and colleges where students can access the IP video service in university housing and via campus-wide Wi-Fi connections. It is looking to expand beyond its 27 current Xfinity on Campus locations, Marcien Jenckes, Comcast Cable executive vice president, consumer services, said in a Sept. 8 briefing. Comcast and its pay TV peers are working to develop such alternatives to traditional video offers in order to attract and hold onto younger viewers and other cord cutters who are less interested in paying for a full video service with hundreds of channels.

With traditional video subscriber counts declining, cable and telco video operators are increasingly looking to broadband as the primary way to reach prospective new customers. “It is very important for us to have the next generation of customers, to give them exposure to our products and services,” Jenckes said. The service launched last fall at seven colleges, and the company plans to announce more deployments later this year.

While the On Campus service is intended in part to reach subscribers with limited budgets, Comcast also offers various added-cost upgrades to the service that add premium channels or a sports package. In addition to providing an attractive amenity for students, operators point to reduced pirating when high-demand content is available to students over an authenticated service and, because the services separate video streams from other data on campus networks, reduced congestion and improved availability for other traffic on campus nets.

Scaled Down Video Package Viewable Across Campus

Comcast's campus video service delivers a mix of linear and on-demand network TV, premium cable networks and a variety of sports channels over campus networks. Xfinity on Campus will add a cloud DVR option later this year, allowing students to record content for later viewing. Content is accessible via any authorized and authenticated computer or Internet-ready TV set on a wired connection and on any authorized smartphone, tablet or laptop computer via campus Wi-Fi.

When off campus, students can use their university credentials to authenticate and access Comcast's TV Everywhere online programming and premium streaming services. The cost of the service—which provides live and on-demand access to more than 80 broadcast and premium channels— is determined by individual schools and is included in housing fees.

Part of Comcast's selection process includes determining that a school's Wi-Fi infrastructure is up to the demands placed on it by the heavy video traffic. Most video is being watched on mobile devices, according to Comcast.

According to Comcast's studies of usage trends on campus, students spend more time watching live programming rather than binging on on-demand content. Jeremy Andreoli, Comcast Cable executive director, video services said that students spent about 62 percent watching live TV and about 38 percent viewing on-demand content.

Sporting events drive much of that live viewing, Andreoli said, with the NBA playoffs drawing the largest live audiences followed by Major League Baseball, the Stanley Cup playoffs, NBA games, ESPN’s SportsCenter, Premiere League soccer, and UEFA Champions League soccer matches. Jenckes said that the service is strategically important for Comcast, allowing it to demonstrate the technical capabilities of its X1 platform, which provides the foundation for Xfinity on Campus and for a similar IP-delivered “skinny bundle” residential service that the company is testing in areas of Boston.

Jenckes said that Xfinity on Campus allows Comcast to demonstrate “next generation products, services and technologies” to students.

Competition From Specialists, DirecTV

Jenckes noted that Comcast is looking to compete more effectively with specialist companies such as Campus Televideo and Philo, that have focused exclusively on delivering video services to campus. “The way I look at it, if we're doing our job the way we should be doing our job and meeting our customer needs,” he said, “there isn't necessarily a need for that middle service.”

Boston-based Philo offers services at Harvard, where its technology was developed, Fort Hays State University, Stanford University, the University of Washington, Wesleyan University, William Paterson University and Yale University. Philo offers a network DVR functionality to students, offering up to 10 hours of recording capacity. Philo is working with Campus Televideo, a provider of more traditional campus cable TV services to over 250 colleges, to deliver service to SUNY Buffalo and Alfred State SUNY College of Technology in New York. Comcast, Cox and Philo also face at least seasonal competition from AT&T's DirecTV, which offers a discounted online version of its NFL Sunday Ticket to students at 10 U.S. universities.

Xfinity on Campus is now available to students at Benedictine College; Brandeis University; Bridgewater College; Chico State; Dartmouth College; University of Delaware; Drexel University; Emerson College; Goucher University; Lasell College; Loyola University Maryland; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Morehouse College; University of New Hampshire; Northwestern University; Regis College; Rider University, St. Michael's College; Seattle Pacific University; Sonoma State University; Washington & Lee University; and Yale University. The company has announced that the service will be available soon at Carnegie Mellon University, Champlain College, Lebanon Valley College, Oregon State University and Tennessee State University.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tim McElgunn in Cherry Hill, NJ at tmcelgunn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine in Washington at kperine@bna.com