By Dan Mitchell
February 22, 2012

FORTUNE — Put “Comcast” and “streaming” together in a press release and predictably, reports will proliferate that the cable giant is taking on Netflix. It isn’t.

Not yet, anyway. Comcast’s (CMCSA) new streaming service, Xfinity Streampix, will be available to existing video customers only, though it’s possible — even likely — that the company is laying the groundwork for future direct competition with Netflix (NFLX), the current leader in streaming video, as well as with Amazon (AMZN), Hulu Plus and every other streamer that is now in, or will be entering, the market.

MORE: Amazon’s Prime and punishment

For now, the move seems aimed at retaining customers who might otherwise bolt for Netflix (NFLX), and to get at least some Comcast customers who already subscribe to Netflix to cancel that subscription. That might be seen as competition. But the service isn’t available even to Comcast’s own broadband-Internet subscribers unless they’re video customers as well. Netflix is available to anyone with a credit card and a device on which to watch streamed video. It also has a far larger catalog of offerings.

Subscribers to Comcast’s expensive Double Play and Triple Play bundled services will get free access to the Streampix. Subscribers to lower-end pay-TV services will be charged $4.99 a month to get streamed television shows and movies. Most of the so-far-meager offerings are from back catalogs — older episodes of The Office and 30 Rock, shows like Lost and Married With Children, and movies such as The Big Lebowski and When Harry Met Sally. The company says more programming will soon be available. Comcast struck deals for the service with Disney (DIS), NBC Universal, Sony Pictures (SNE), Warner Bros. (TWX) and Cookie Jar, a provider of children’s programming. Comcast owns NBC Universal.

MORE: No, Netflix doesn’t suddenly believe in DVDs again

The Wall Street Journal reported that “people familiar with the pacts” said the content deals include rights for Comcast to sell the service nationally to anyone. On the record, though, a Comcast executive told the Journal that the company has “no intention to launch something out of our footprint,” but is merely making its current offerings more appealing. The service will be available on the Web, on Apple’s (AAPL) iPad, and via Comcast’s video-on-demand cable service. Future platforms might include Google’s (GOOG) Android and Microsoft’s (MSFT) Xbox 360 gaming console.

You May Like