Apparently redoubling its efforts to win the streaming wars, cable provider Comcast has announced a new wireless streaming device called the XiOne.
A quick point of clarification here, before we continue: A Comcast spokesperson apparently told Vulture that the device’s name should be pronounced “more like an acronym, so the letter X, the letter I, and then the number one. So ‘X – i – 1.’” Sounds more like a child of Grimes and Elon Musk than a streaming device, but OK!
The XiOne is reportedly coming soon to customers in the U.S. who use Xfinity Flex, Comcast’s streaming product for broadband-only cable customers, though it’s now available for the company’s SkyQ customers in Italy and Germany. Eventually, the device will also be available through Comcast partners like Cox Communications in the U.S. and Rogers, Shaw and Videotron in Canada.
The XiOne supports Wi-Fi 6, 4K UHD, HDR, Dolby Vision, and Dolby Atmos, and it’s obviously Comcast’s play to compete with Roku and Fire TV, both of which have recently set about embedding their own streaming products in partner TV sets. But Comcast spent years timidly recusing itself from the streaming wars, only to lift its giant dinosaur head up in 2021 and find itself hemorrhaging subscribers along with every other major cable television player in the U.S., and there’s no indication that it would fare better at distribution than other well-established brands that are lighter on their feet.
The new device is being rolled out amid rumors that Comcast is planning to insert the X1 tech that currently powers its set-top boxes into other devices—namely, its own branded line of smart TVs. Just last week, Protocol reported that Comcast has partnered with Walmart and Hisense to develop the “XClass TV,” which will also run a version of the company’s proprietary operating system. Unlike Comcast’s other set top devices, however, the “XClass TV” would be available to everyone—not just those who subscribe to the company’s cable services.
“When Sky joined the Comcast family, we brought together our engineers to share insights, roadmaps, talent, and technology to support our global customers,” Charlie Herrin, president of technology for Comcast, said in a statement. “The launch of our new XiOne device is a direct result of these efforts and underscores how our collaborative development approach can bring new and innovative streaming products to markets faster and more efficiently.”
Comcast may be chomping at the bit to become a streaming giant, but it’s all too little, too late. Rather than spending years hatching increasingly elaborate plans to throttle competing streaming services, Comcast should have gone on the offensive, embraced the soup it was swimming in, and set out to develop a competing service right away. But that’s not what happened, and now, there’s little to no reason to believe that a regional cable company, and a late entrant to the streaming wars at that, even stands a chance against its competitors.
There’s also the pesky little fact that Comcast is, at the end of the day, a cable giant with a cable giant’s mentality, and that mentality has historically been whatever the opposite of “the customer is king” is. When the company first rolled out Flex, which was billed as a free streaming service that came with a free 4K streaming box for Comcast’s internet subscribers, it charged ridiculous fees for hardware rentals. (The fee is now $5/month for additional Flex boxes after the first.) And all this for the customer support of the brand that was named the “Worst Company in America” not once, but twice in the last decade? Reader, allow me to suggest a Roku.