TiVo Xfinity On Demand Arrives (in San Francisco)

Dave Zatz —  April 11, 2012 — 30 Comments

tivo-xfinity1

As expected (and reinforced), Comcast’s Xfinity On Demand content is now available to TiVo Premiere owners in the San Francisco Bay Area. Of course, the offering requires a Comcast cable television subscription but it doesn’t require Comcast Internet service (as the possibly anti-competitive Xbox 360 Xfinity initiative does) – communication is handled via IP, while video is served over QAM. Content includes both all the free On Demand content, that makes generic cable boxes occasionally more appealing than TiVo’s hardware, in addition to traditional pay-per-view.

First hand reports are starting to trickle in via the forums with Jason Kersey sharing some initial feedback and these photographs. He reports that the interface is something of a cross between TiVo’s standard definition UI and newer HDUI, with some visual inconsistencies. However, I’m willing to be the vast majority of folks won’t be troubled – as bad as TiVo can be, it’s still better than Comcast’s box. Not to mention, the content remains king. In terms of that content, I assume it’s standard On Demand fair which Jason describes as pretty good and better than Netflix. Integration also extends to TiVo’s iOS, as you can see from the iPad screenshot below. Interestingly, with at least some content, fast forwarding is disabled. You might think this isn’t a prob… yet, we know Comcast intends to deliver On Demand advertising.

tivo-xfinity5

As mentioned, the Bay Area is up first – presumably due to TiVo’s corporate colocation and this also happens to be one of Comcast’s largest markets. But TiVo indicates others markets will come online in the “coming months” and it’ll be interesting to see how the marketing tie-up between to two evolves, as the original agreement alluded too. Regardless, I’m confident this initiative will surely outperform the ill-fated Motorola Comcast TiVo that never made it beyond New England.

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30 responses to TiVo Xfinity On Demand Arrives (in San Francisco)

  1. Assume this is for premiere only?

  2. Yah, Premiere only – Premiere, Premiere XL, Premiere Elite.

  3. They should make Boston the next market to make up for the giant bag O’ suck that was the soft TiVo.

  4. Michael Burstin April 11, 2012 at 10:05 am

    Screen shot 4 looks a bit like the failed New England ComcasTivo screen. I am guessing that the fast-forward disable has nothing to do with Tivo – I think Comcast has that implemented already for some shows even on their standard box. Only thing I really dislike about that is the fact that quite a few times that I’ve watched something from On Demand is when a show got cut off when recording on Tivo – like CBS shows getting delayed after football, etc when I only want the last 15 minutes of the show. In any case, this is a great step forward and as @JackHoff said, I hope Boston is next :).

  5. Did we ever solve why Comcast is doing this? I can guess one from:

    1) Getting a small amount of incremental revenue from PPV and ads on free VOD.

    2) Solving some patent trolling from TiVo by doing this for TiVo.

    3) Earning brownie points from the FCC for their future nefarious plans.

  6. “with at least some content, fast forwarding is disabled.”

    I can fully understand disabling FF during ads, but during shows? That’s just nonsensical for everyone involved.

  7. In the thread he posted over at the TiVo community forums, I asked TiVoSteven if the content is the same as what cable boxes can get. He answered yes. I also asked if the rollout should be completed by the end of the year to which he responded that that hasn’t been determined (basically a non-answer).

    @Chucky fast forward is disabled by content provider request. For example Fox disables fast forward on all their shows. This is true for the Comcast cable boxes as well. So it’s not a TiVo or Comcast issue, it’s a content provider one.

  8. Chucky,

    I assume it is part of the way Comcast keeps a partner happy, and lets Comcast tell the FCC they play nice with others.

    And, in your mind has there ever been a patent related law suit that wasn’t “patent trolling.” If so, how did it differ from TiVo’s?

  9. Michael Burstin April 11, 2012 at 11:21 am

    I think that Comcast is doing this because of their previous “partnership” work together – which wasn’t quite as smooth because the Moto boxes suck. Comcast has really seemed to have gotten their act together when it comes to Cablecard support so this makes sense that they want Cablecard customers to be able to pay them for on-demand PPV.

  10. Did we ever solve why Comcast is doing this? I can guess one from:

    1) Getting a small amount of incremental revenue from PPV and ads on free VOD.

    2) Solving some patent trolling from TiVo by doing this for TiVo.

    3) Earning brownie points from the FCC for their future nefarious plans.

    Here’s why I think Comcast is doing this:

    Background:
    You could ask the same question as to why Comcast is allowing access to Xfinity on the Xbox 360. If they are losing customers to overbuilders like FiOS and U-Verse than permitting Xfinity on 3rd party boxes like TiVo and Xbox will provide additional stickiness to their service and their profitable triple play packages.

    I know that in my area (Tampa) if I had access to On Demand from one service provider that would be a heavy factor in my selection of that provider over an alternative.

    It costs Comcast essentially nothing, they don’t get sued by TiVo for IP infringement and they keep customer’s that might otherwise defect to other satellite or cable service providers. Comcast also reduces CapEx expense associated with supporting cable boxes that they make very little money on compared to the profits on things like high speed internet.

    Brownie points with the FCC is also a factor since they want to avoid an AllVid mandate which will be extremely costly to them.

  11. “And, in your mind has there ever been a patent related law suit that wasn’t “patent trolling.” If so, how did it differ from TiVo’s?”

    I genuinely love TiVo’s patent portfolio. It was what convinced me to initially jump onto the platform, (a decision I’ve been very happy with), back when there seemed to be questions about the company’s viability. Their patent portfolio gave me confidence they’d keep their head above water.

    And I use that “patent trolling” term in a value neutral manner. We all play by the rules as they exist, and more power to TiVo.

  12. Dave tweets:

    “I may have to re-do my TiVo-friendly cable provider rankings. Think this probably moves Comcast ahead of Verizon FiOS TV.”

    That’s either some real out-of-the-box thinking, or some insanity. And I provisionally lean toward the latter.

    Unless Comcast is on par with Verizon’s customer-friendly CCI byte policy, the sweet, sweet fibre wins on those grounds alone. And that’s before we even start getting into stuff like CableCARD self-installs and other such incidentals.

    Don’t get me wrong. I’d very much like a taste of Verizon’s VOD, but I still wouldn’t switch from the sweet wire just to get Comcast’s VOD. I do love being able to locally cache.

  13. Great to see that technically Tivo was able to deliver this. It gives me hope that maybe they can eventually get to work on the Cox VOD that was announced before Comcast. I realize that ComCast was the bigger fish so maybe that’s why they got priority. Is there any sense that Cox VOD will happen after Comcast is finished rolling out nationwide? Tivo still lists Cox on Demand as coming soon on their webpage.

  14. “permitting Xfinity on 3rd party boxes like TiVo and Xbox will provide additional stickiness to their service and their profitable triple play packages.”

    This is definitely viable option #4 as explanation.

  15. If anyone wants to see what the menus and picture quality looks like I took a bunch of pics.
    http://imgur.com/a/g0L4A

  16. This is nice and would probably be the only thing that made me keep Tivo, but I don’t have much faith that it will ever come to Cox like they said it would be. It has been a couple years now and not a word. It would at least make me keep 1 of my Tivos if this ever came through.

  17. My TiVo Premier XL in the Bay Area is still at software version: 20.2.0a-01-2-748

    What is the new version?

  18. Here was Light Readings assessment of the reason for Comcast moving forward with support for TiVo.

    TiVo has long-complained that a lack of cable VoD makes its boxes a tougher sell at retail. This week’s launch represents just one Comcast market, but it offers more evidence that TiVo can support cable’s full video service without the headache and expense of developing a retail box that uses tru2way middleware. Cox Communications Inc. has a similar retail integration deal in place with TiVo, but has yet to pull the trigger.

    The Comcast deployment also carries some regulatory weight. It’s coming into view as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considers whether to move forward with a CableCARD successor called AllVid. The cable industry has argued that the FCC should let the retail market develop without any further government interference.

  19. Michael Burstin April 12, 2012 at 9:41 am

    @Chucky – Comcast is good with the CCI byte. Only channels that I have it set for in Boston at at my parents in Pittsburgh are the premium channels.

  20. “Comcast is good with the CCI byte. Only channels that I have it set for in Boston at at my parents in Pittsburgh are the premium channels.”

    Comcast may be good, but Verizon is great in that arena as even the premiums are set with a customer-friendly CCI byte. It’s truly the sweet wire.

    (Again, I really would love me some VOD access. But that alone wouldn’t be enough for me to switch from Verizon to Comcast, were Comcast available in my locale. I hate relying on content bounded by windowing schemes.)

  21. @Robert – 20.2.0a is what is required. Force a connection and once it finishes loading force a reboot (under Help, reset option). That has consistently worked for those who are in the right geography to get it.

    Some in the East Bay are reporting that it doesn’t yet work for them but most people in the South Bay and Peninsula seem to be fine.

  22. @DogdOfWar
    This morning OnDeman was there!
    Unfortunately, whenever I tried to watch a show, I got a CableCard error.
    I’ll call Comcast at lunchtime and see if they can figure it out…

    The good news is that on my Find TV, Movies & Videos screen, OnDemand was just squeezed in about YouTube, so that is still there.

  23. @Chucky,

    Lots of on demand content now is ingested as a single file with the ads as they aired baked in. So if a provider wants Comcast to block fast-forwarding then they have to disable it for the entire asset. They really don’t have any idea where the ads are, so even a range-based block isn’t possible.

    Comcast is planning on moving to a playlist-based approach, and the VOD servers deployed in the Bay Area for example already support blocking fast-forward only on certain assets (say ads) in the playlist, while allowing them on others.

    Problem is I don’t believe they understand how hard it will be to cut out the ads from the original assets, given that the things weren’t pre-conditioned. The transport stream has the audio and video interleaved, the audio that plays along with the video is about a half second after it in the stream, different assets have different decode to presentation time deltas, etc. Its all doable, but its going to take quite a while.

    The motivation to do it is that the advertisers only pay them for playback in certain contexts, like real time only or real time +3 or +5 days. After that if you watch the show and see the ad, Comcast or the network or both don’t get paid anyway. Whereas if they put new ads in there they WOULD get paid.

    However, even getting ‘bumper’ ads inserted at the start of free assets has taken them YEARS to deploy, so I wouldn’t hold your breath.

    Agree it sucks. Will certainly keep me from using it some of the time. Still, a major step forward.

  24. “Lots of on demand content now is ingested as a single file with the ads as they aired baked in.”

    Thanks for the explanation. Didn’t make any sense at all to me before that. I assumed the whole architecture was different.

    “Problem is I don’t believe they understand how hard it will be to cut out the ads from the original assets”

    All depends on how valuable non-premium VOD ends up getting. It’s not too hard to strip out the ads when they sell a show to Netflix, after all…

  25. I’m in the South Bay Area and tried this last night. All the menus worked but nothing would play. I got the Comcast “grey screen”. Is this because I have a cable card?

  26. @Sam Lowry The only way this works is with a cable card. Others have reported similar errors and said they were going to call Comcast.

  27. I called several times yesterday with no resolution.
    Today my internet is out at home so I’ll try again in a few hours.

  28. Thought I’d cross post some new information. A Comcast employee has posted the following over on the Tivo Community forums:

    “Hello folks,
    I am a comcast employee and want to advise you that the only cities in the first phase of the vod launch in the bay area are Cupertino, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas,
    Monterey, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Clara, Saratoga, and Sunnyvale….others will be added later this month! ”

    Since I’m in the North Bay and doing the zip code check said I’d be getting the service soon I’d been force connecting and rebooting frequently to try and force the update, but it turns out I’ve got a few weeks to wait. No biggie. Glad to hear its just rolling out to the different cities in the area somewhat slowly.

  29. 4 days later and it still doesn’t work (CableCard error screen of grey board and black center) and Comcast phone reps have no clue. At this point they tel me to call TiVo.

  30. Finally, about 10 days later, Comcast VOD works for me.
    Comcast’s Tech Support had no clue about the entire TiVo/Comcast partnership.
    The ‘Level 2′ tech support lady was utterly clueless. Fortunately for me, the TiVo tech support I had called before had initiated this call and was on the line as well so she was the one who had to repeatedly tell Comcast that they had rolled it out on April 10th…
    From TiVo’s tech support web page I had figured out that my Cablecard wasn’t properly paired. Even with that information it still took about a week for Comcast to fix it.

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