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Comcast embraces skinny competition by offering Sling TV on X1

Comcast and Sling TV announced that Sling TV will bring its full suite of 425 channels to the Comcast X1 platform soon. Why would Comcast allow a direct competitor on X1? It’s all about multicultural content.

Sling TV on X1 a surprise

The announcement that Sling TV content will be available to Comcast X1 customers comes as a big surprise. There are two major reasons this deal is unexpected. Firstly, Sling TV is the poster-boy for the skinny bundle approach to pay TV. This low-cost alternative is putting pressure on the high-priced, big bundle approach championed by Comcast X1.

In addition, Sling TV is owned by Dish Network, one of Comcast’s biggest competitors. In the past, Comcast has struggled to compete with satellite, as subscribers left the cable giant for somewhat cheaper channel packages at Dish. Recently, however, the flow of subscribers has reversed, with Dish losing 116,000 in Q3 2016, and Comcast gaining 32,000.

International channels the focus of the deal

Javier Garcia, SVP and GM of Multicultural Services for Comcast Cable, is clear about the win for the cabler:

Javier Garcia, Comcast

Javier Garcia, Comcast

“Our customers are becoming increasingly diverse and this is a fantastic opportunity to quickly deliver even more customized and multicultural programming to them, on an X1 platform that’s smart, fast and easy-to-use.”

Sling TV has over 320 multicultural networks in 21 languages available. For example, there are international channel bundles in Hindi (9 TV channels), Chinese (20 channels), and more in Italian, Urdu (India), Arabic, and Portuguese (Brazil.) Comcast has nothing like these channels currently. Sling TV will make them available to X1 customers in language bundles starting at $10 a month, per the press release.

However, the channel bundles in Hindi and Chinese are available directly from Sling TV today for $5 a month. It looks like X1 customers may be paying a premium for some of the multicultural content. Though neither company has commented, the price difference could be because Sling is allowing X1 customers to subscribe to the International bundles without taking other Sling channels. A regular Sling TV customer must subscribe to the basic Blue or Orange bundles before subscribing to ethnic content. We must await further details for clarification on this issue.

The win for Sling TV is also clear. Getting direct access to Comcast’s 20+M pay TV subscribers broadens the market for those International channels considerably.

Why include all Sling TV content?

It’s harder to understand how the inclusion of the full Sling TV line-up is helpful to either company. Ben Weinberger, Chief Product Officer for Sling TV, is upbeat about the opportunity:

Ben Weinberger Sling TV

Ben Weinberger, Sling TV

“Sling TV’s debut on Comcast’s X1 is another step forward in our promise to consumers to be available on their favorite platforms. For the first time, millions of Comcast customers will have access to new multicultural programming options as well as the full suite of Sling TV programming.”

However, there seems little reason for Comcast X1 subscribers to take anything other than the multicultural channels from Sling TV. Presumably, they already have access to most of the regular TV channels available from Sling. They also have full DVR rights for those channels. Many of the channels available from Sling TV do not allow DVR controls, like pause and skip.

Comcast does not feel threatened by Sling TV

Comcast clearly does not feel there is a risk of many X1 subscribers switching to Sling TVs skinny bundle channels. The addition of the multicultural channels, however, is very helpful. For those customers interested in them, it is very convenient to have English and language channels together in one guide. And it gives them one more reason not to consider cutting the cord.

Why it matters

The addition of Sling TV to X1 is a big step for Comcast, and very different to the deal with Netflix.

While you can argue that Netflix is complimentary to X1, Sling TV is a direct competitor.

The win in being able to offer Sling’s multicultural content to X1 customers outweighed any perceived threat from the rest of Sling’s offering.

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