Why Comcast's TV Streaming Service Is A Total Ripoff

Photo: Courtesy Comcast.
In the battle for your living room, Comcast has finally realized that millennials and other tech savvy citizens don't care to pay boatloads of money for TV channels they don't need. Thus, the telecom giant will finally begin offering a streaming TV service for subscribers. Unfortunately, it's not what we'd hoped it would be.

For $15 a month, on top of your existing internet subscription, Comcast will offer a handful of broadcast networks and HBO. Called Stream, the service will arrive in Seattle, Boston, and Chicago later this year, and be available to the rest of the country in 2016. That sounds all right, right?

You'll get NBC, ABC, CBS, PBS, Fox, and HBO, but no ESPN, no AMC, no HGTV, or any other stations you'd get on cable. In the future, Stream will offer additional packages of children’s, lifestyle, sports, and movie content for an extra $5 or $10 each month, as well as the ability to swap out HBO for another premium channel, Comcast's executive vice president and general manger of video services Matthew Strauss told The New York Times.

With that knowledge, at the outset, Stream will be a ripoff for many of us. Why? With the exception of HBO, you can get all of those stations for free. (And for HBO, you can simply subscribe to HBO Now, which also costs $15 a month, but doesn't require a Comcast subscription.)

To get the broadcast stations Comcast would offer, all you need to do is buy an indoor digital antenna. You can check out a few options here, and buy one for as little as $10. Most come with mounting hardware, so you can affix it to a wall to pick up signals (and hide it pretty easily right behind your TV). Then, plug the cord into your TV, head to the setup menu, switch the input to antenna, and start scanning for channels. This one-time set up may take almost 20 minutes, but from then on, you've got your basic TV channels — no subscription required.

However, HD antennas have their caveats, so Comcast's streaming service could be useful to some of you. If your abode has metal siding, or a lot of metal in the walls (if you live in an old building with plaster walls, there could also be chicken wire in there), or you have a lot of floors above your apartment, you may have trouble picking up an over-the-air signal with an indoor antenna. In these cases, you'll want to get an outdoor antenna, or go with a service like Stream that doesn't require an antenna at all. Stream could also be useful if you don't pick up many over-the-air stations where you live. You can check that with the Federal Communications Commission's digital TV reception map here.

And if you were hoping for access to channels like AMC, Lifetime, ESPN, and Food Network with a streaming TV subscription, you can already do that with Sling TV. Provided by Dish network, the $20 a month service offers 20 cable channels, and doesn't require a Dish network subscription. Similar to what Comcast's Stream will eventually do, it also offers packages of extra channels you can tack on for $5 more each month, if you're into sports, for example, or really want the Sundance channel.

So while Comcast's upcoming streaming service may be useful for some, for most of us, there are better options that do more, or cost less.

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