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Comcast Might Sell Flex Devices to Compete with Roku, FireTV

Ben Bowman

In today’s MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit, Comcast CEO Dave Watson suggested the cable, internet, and content company might get into the hardware game. Watson spent a fair amount of time touting his company’s Flex video streaming device, specifically its voice search function.

“You can go to the metadata - the actual program asset - and through great voice search capability, you can call up whether you want to go to Netflix, Peacock, (or) Disney. The ability to find the show you want fast - really fast - and effectively is key. So while others have some voice capability, there’s a difference.”

While those Flex devices are available to Comcast customers, there’s a chance they might soon be available to everyone. Asked if Comcast might sell the Flex beyond their internet customer base, Watson said it’s a possibility. There’s also the chance that Comcast may sell the technology to other hardware manufacturers, which could use Flex as an operating system.

Cord cutters have been facing headaches in recent months as hardware companies clash with streaming services. Roku recently nuked YouTube TV from the platform, but Google retaliated by putting a YouTube TV viewing option inside the regular YouTube app. Peacock is not currently available on Fire TV unless you sideload it. Comcast might try to play nice as a sort of streaming Switzerland.

Comcast currently has 3.5 million Flex devices deployed. About half of those customers are regular active users of the platform.

The streaming device market appears fairly well saturated as it is. In addition to smart TVs with built-in streaming options, you also have players like Roku, FireTV, Google Chromecast, and Apple TV. Each has its pros and cons, and consumers need to decide how to balance price and features. Even Walmart is getting into the game with its in-house Onn-branded products with a sub-$30 streaming device and a forthcoming Android TV stick.

By the end of March, 70% of United States households had smart TVs. And 57% of homes had a Roku and/or Amazon Fire TV device. In the first quarter of 2021, an overwhelming 77% of U.S. homes streamed video.

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