It might not be the Hatfields and the McCoys, but Comcast and Netflix have had a contentious relationship for some time. Which is why something that appears fairly innocuous, like the addition of Netflix to Comcast’s X1 service, takes on an extra level of significance.
Comcast (CMCSA) CEO Brian Roberts did a demo of the integration on Tuesday during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in New York. Netflix appears alongside Pandora and other services in the “apps” section of the X1 box, which the cable provider has been rolling out for the past year or so.
Once a user logs in to their Netflix account, it looks and feels exactly like Netflix, Roberts said, and shows from the streaming service appear alongside all of the other content that subscribers can get through their Comcast account. If a user looks at a show listing, episodes on regular TV appear in the same list as episodes that are on Netflix.
This may seem like a fairly ho-hum integration of a streaming service into a cable box, but the relationship between Comcast and Netflix has not always been so chummy.
Just a few years ago, Netflix (NFLX) CEO Reed Hastings was writing impassioned essays about Comcast and how the company was breaking the spirit of net neutrality regulations by giving preference to its own streaming video solution.
In 2014, Netflix made a point of discussing how it felt forced to pay Comcast a fee just to get its content in the cable provider’s “fast lane.”
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Roberts wasn’t in a mood to discuss that kind of bad blood on Tuesday. In the Q & A after his presentation, he said that the two companies “haven’t always seen eye to eye,” but that he had spent time with Hastings and decided to reach a deal in order to serve their customers better.
“Reed Hastings and myself spent some time together, we’ve always had tremendous respect for each other,” Roberts said. “Our two companies have gotten a lot closer through this process.”
Roberts also said now that Comcast has struck a deal with Netflix, it is open to doing similar deals with other streaming services as well.
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“We’re in discussions about doing that, now we have a nice template,” he said. “Our organization has made a conscious decision that we are going to aggregate other people’s content, some of which we sell directly, some of which we don’t. We’re doing it for the consumer.”
When asked about the impact of cord cutting and the move to so-called “skinny bundles,” which only include a small proportion of the traditional cable package, the Comcast CEO said that his company hasn’t really been affected much by the phenomenon.
“We’ve been using skinny bundles to attract new customers, and we’ve seen about 30% of them up-sell to a traditional bundle,” Roberts said. He also said that Comcast’s base of cable subscribers increased in the last 12 months, for the first time in a decade. “Our focus is to keep making the bundle more valuable,” he said.