Comcast’s new service Xfinity Flex offers a streaming device and aggregated platform for streaming services, all for $5 per month. Since similar experiences are available on inexpensive streaming devices, why pay a monthly fee?
That was the question put to Matt Strauss, executive vice president of Xfinity Services at Comcast, during a press conference today. He did his best to explain the thought process behind charging a monthly fee when consumers can get roughly the same thing by plunking down a one-time $40 on a Roku.
“We’ve done quite a bit of research on that and what we’ve found is, there’s certainly a segment of the customers we’re targeting who want to purchase the device and own it,” said Strauss. “But there was an almost equal segment that was open to leasing the device.”
To be sure, the Flex box is a quality device. It can handle 4K HDR content and it comes with a voice remote and user interface designed by Comcast, which has excelled at both of those things with its X1 platform. So, it’s likely worth at least a year of $5 monthly payments, even if it’s just a lease.
But Strauss stressed that Flex is much more than just the device. He called it a service that provides free content, a cohesive platform for different subscription services and the ability to control connected devices within the home.
Strauss said Flex will have the same level of tech support that Comcast offers for its traditional TV, broadband and phone products.
“I think that for $5, it’s a relatively low price point for a customer to try it,” said Strauss. He also pointed toward success that Comcast has had in getting customers to pay for its internet gateway by offering enhanced services like xFi.
On the topic of internet, Strauss said that over time Comcast may look at ways to sell Flex not as a monthly subscription service but as a package deal with different tiers of internet service.
Of course, there are some limitations with Flex that consumers won’t run into with other similar devices and services. Flex will only be available within Comcast’s service footprint and only to customers who pay for Comcast Xfinity broadband. Also, any customers hoping to use Flex to stream live TV from a virtual MVPD like Sling TV, DirecTV Now, YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV are out of luck. Since Comcast is offering Flex customers the option to upgrade to a Comcast video package at any time, the company doesn’t want other MVPD options getting in the way.
Flex clearly has some pros and cons, and Comcast wouldn’t be launching it if it didn’t believe there was a least some sort of market for the service and device. But early reactions to Flex—and the $5 monthly charge on top of broadband fees—were probably not what Comcast had hoped for.
I don't understand Comcast's Flex program. They charge you $5/month to rent a box for streaming, when you could just buy a Roku and own it for like $40.— Steve Kovach (@stevekovach) March 21, 2019
And what really makes me laugh about Comcast Flex. The box is $4.99 a month, which would be $60 a year. Hell, you can get a Roku streaming stick for less than $30 total, and it has tons more programming than Flex. https://t.co/1jIHK9HpYd— The TV Answer Man (@SwanniOnTV) March 21, 2019
Hmm, pay a one-time fee for a streaming box with EVERY service, or pay $5 a month perpetually to the least-liked company in America for a streaming box that only runs Comcast-approved apps.— Karl Bode (@KarlBode) March 21, 2019
How innovative. https://t.co/axh4dnNzKZ
Flex officially launches on March 26, and we might get an update on how it’s doing early on when Comcast announces first-quarter results on April 25. Maybe there are a lot of Comcast internet subscribers still looking for a streaming box or willing to ditch their Fire TV or Roku in favor of a $5 monthly charge for a service and a device. But if the cord-cutting community’s early response is any indicator, Flex might be a tough sell.