Comcast's booming campus TV service adds Roku availability

College campus - Columbia
Campuses like Columbia University's are the new cable distribution battlegrounds, with Comcast's Xfinity on Campus showing 60% growth and enlisting Roku for even wider availability.

Long gone are the days of the communal TV lounge on college campuses. While students may still gather around a single screen, especially on game days, their video consumption is highly individualized and increasingly on mobile devices.

Knowing this trend has adverse long-term consequences, Comcast launched the Xfinity on Campus service in 2014. It offers students a streaming package without a subscription—The goal being to have them one day upgrade to a traditional video bundle subscription instead of opting for Netflix or YouTube and becoming a dreaded cord-never. Nipping at its heels was a well-funded startup, Philo, which was launched out of a Harvard dorm room.

In recent months, though, Comcast has moved aggressively to assert its position as campus provider of choice. Engadget reports that Comcast now claims to offer the service to more than 100 schools—an increase of 60% over 2016 levels. Plus, while originally the Xfinity streaming TV setup worked only through phones, PCs and tablets, this fall both new and returning students can also watch via Roku. That gives viewers a few options—Roku’s streaming sticks and boxes or smart TVs from several partner manufacturers, including TCL. All feature live TV, video on demand and cloud DVR.

Cable operators have ramped up efforts to plug any leaks in their subscriber base. The annual spring shutdown of college campuses delivers an annual hit. In the period from April to June, for example, distributors shed a collective 941,000 subscribers—the worst quarterly loss ever, according to MoffettNathanson.

In addition to reaching the ne plus ultra of fickle on-demand consumers—college kids—the campus service has another benefit: Billing is handled through colleges and universities. While the individual setups vary, in most cases the institutions pay an overall fee and then tack it onto tuition bills. Thanks, Mom and Dad!

In terms of programming, what are kids today consuming when not cramming for exams? In the early going, anyway, mostly sports. In its first year of operation, a Comcast representative put the number at 78% of total viewing on Xfinity on Campus streaming.