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The Problem with DIRECTV Now

It is now almost four months since AT&T launched DirecTV, its latest strategy to lure the cord-cutters. The verdict on the service is – it has more bugs than the 1997 film, Starship Troopers. AT&T had presumably planned to target the disillusioned cable subscribers looking for an out. But, as it turns out, it is the cord-cutting DirecTV Now subscribers that have been disillusioned by the service. Everything up and about DirecTV Now is crashing. The app has been a nightmare for countless subscribers who were looking for TV entertainment on the internet. Making things worse, AT&T has been defiant as far as taking responsibility for their blunder. They are not even ready to refund their subscribers, who clearly did not sign up for the hell that DirecTV Now has turned out to be. So, what is really wrong with DirecTV Now? Well, where do you start

There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that the DirecTV Now app is a work in progress. Instead of finishing an end product that has been tried and tested, AT&T released a half-baked product for a hungry audience. After all, they didn’t want to sit quiet and watch their competitors like DISH’s Sling TV, Sony’s PlayStation Vue, etc. take away the lion’s share of live TV streamers. Ironically, that’s exactly what is happening ever since DirecTV Now launched. Anyone who is not caught up in AT&T’s web is jumping ship. Cord-cutters who want live TV are steering as clear as possible from them. It is true that DirecTV Now does not force its subscribers to sign long term customers. But, it had launched a promotion campaign that gave the users free Apple TVs for subscribers who prepaid for 3 months of service, and free Fire TV Stick to those who prepaid 1 month of service. Those customers are definitely not getting their money back. Naturally, they have been the most vocal among the lot. “I signed up just 2 weeks ago and paid for three months straight. Now I regret it. The service does not work at all,” James, a disgruntled DirecTV Now subscriber emailed us.

The issues with DirecTV Now did not start after an update or because the loads crashed their servers. Instead, the problems existed in the app, in their systems, right from the start. Users have faced every kind of problem there is. Some have complained that the app does not acknowledge their valid subscription details. There have been reports of the app crashing in the middle of a show or a movie. In some cases, the app just logged the users out, and they had to login again to access their content, losing a precious few minutes of their interesting programs. In worse cases, the users were logged out in the middle of the show, and for days they could not access their account on the app. AT&T’s forums are replete with hundreds of discussion threads, each dedicated to a specific issue. That’s something.

Consumers tried everything that they could come up with. After having run out of ideas, when they called the customer support of DirecTV now, they were given non-specific solutions like reinstalling the app, re-logging into the app, etc. When nothing seemed to work, the consumers began venting out their frustrations on the social media. In fact, the hashtag #QP1502, a nod to the error code faced by many users, was soon trending on Twitter. Wow!

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AT&T’s social media accounts have been on an overdrive since the launch of DirecTV Now. All they have done is apologize to the subscribers profusely on a daily basis. While they continue to express how sorry they are about their pathetic service, they have made no attempts to pay reparations by refunding their subscribers. Granted, all new services come with bugs. But, DirecTV Now is a bug lair that also just happens to offer a live TV service. Forget refunds, customers are being charged even during their 7-day free trials. When those surprised subscribers tried to unsubscribe from DirecTV Now during their free trial period, they too were denied refunds, although they shouldn’t have been charged in the first place. Clearly, DirecTV Now is in a mess.

Consumers could have shown some sympathy towards the company as this is a new product. However, AT&T did not advertise their live TV service as a beta. Instead, they marketed it as a fully functional service ready to take on the competition. Then, when the service failed, instead of owning up to their mistakes they are making their subscribers pay for their mistakes. Not to be taken for a ride, one of the consumers registered a complaint with the FCC. This appeared to stir the company executives in action, and they refunded all of “$25” to the subscriber. That was for the first of the 3 months of subscription that the person had signed up for. Last time we checked, they were planning to register another complaint with the FCC for the second month as well.

It wouldn’t be wrong to say that AT&T is strong-arming its subscribers into staying with the service, even though they are frustrated with its evidently unfinished product. Sounds familiar? This is cable all over again. Cable operators forced their subscribers to stay with them using long term contracts, no matter how deplorably they treated their customers. For cord-cutters, this is déjà vu all over again. AT&T and its subsidiary DirecTV, which is a satellite TV service, have proved that no matter where they go, they will take with them all the business practices and learnings that they have amassed over the decades in the pay TV business. Bravo DirecTV. Bravo.

As a subscriber, if you think that you are ready to let AT&T keep your subscription, and make peace with it, well, the story may not end that easily. One person on AT&T’s forum wrote, “How do I cancel? Doesn’t work and I’ve been trying to get this cancelled for two days? You basically stole $130.00 from me!” So, there you go. Welcome to hell. The devil has officially entered the streaming business.

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How Will Smart TV Technology Transform in the Future?

The pace of innovation in the TV industry has been incredibly rapid over the past decade. TVs continue to become thinner, brighter, and more colorful, thanks to advances in screen technology. And the prices of even the most expensive TVs continue to drop, making very high-end smart TVs much more accessible to consumers. So it’s only natural to assume that the pace of innovation will be just as rapid over the next decade. But how exactly will smart TV technology transform in the future?

The first assumption that you have to dismiss entirely is that the “best” technology will win out. That wasn’t the case with plasma televisions, for example. They were generally considered to have a superior technology. The only problem was that they were difficult to manufacture at a cheap enough price point. As a result, the LED TV caught up and eventually surpassed the plasma TV. It wasn’t a win on technological grounds, but on economic grounds. So we can’t always assume that the latest and greatest technologies will always be the ones that triumph in the decade ahead.

With that in mind, here’s a look at some changes that are likely headed to the smart TV industry.

#1: New types of shared social experiences

If you think about the way you watch TV today and the way you watched TV a decade ago, not much has changed. In fact, you might still be watching TV from that same couch that you bought when you first moved into your new home. So here’s one thing that’s definitely going to change: TV is going to become more social.

In many ways, that was the original premise of connecting the smart TV and the Internet – it was a way to bring all the great content on the Internet to your TV. And it also made it possible to combine social media and your TV. You could theoretically watch a professional baseball game and have tweets related to your team show up on your screen in real-time. That was a basic type of shared experience. Even though you were sitting at home alone on your couch, you were sharing that game with total strangers.

The real breakthrough here might involve Facebook and their new forays into live broadcasting (via Facebook Live). Facebook has also talked about creating a studio for developing original video content, as well as plans for a Facebook TV app that would be available on a set-top device for your TV. Imagine combining the power of Facebook and smart TV into one platform.

#2:  Augmented reality

In the most basic forms of augmented reality, graphics and information are overlaid on top of the screen while you are watching a show, game or movie. This content is not in the original movie or show, but is something that has been pulled in from the Internet to “augment” your experience.

Here’s one example: you’re watching your favorite TV shows and you can’t stop thinking about the wonderful outfits that the beautiful actresses are wearing. You wished that you could buy something just like them. With augmented reality, you might be able to see content about the outfits as an AR layer on your screen, and even receive information about where to purchase them online, all as an overlay.

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Or, here’s another example. You’re competing in a fantasy football league with your buddies, and you want to keep track of how your team is doing while you’re watching a game on TV. With augmented reality, you would see an overlay of your players’ fantasy football statistics. In fact, a form of AR is already available for football. If you watch a game, you’ll notice that overlays are drawn on your screen to show the first-down marker. And the broadcasters love to draw little lines and squiggles all over your screen, showing you the route that a pass catcher took, or the intricate series of balletic moves that a monstrous, 300-pound defensive end made to sack your favorite QB.

#3: Virtual reality

One step beyond augmented reality is virtual reality (VR). With VR television, you would be able to bring objects to life as virtual reality experiences. In one demo of this technology, Microsoft showed how it might work with its HoloLens technology. Imagine that you’re watching a football game on TV. You’d hit a button on your remote control and put on a VR headset, and you’d see what appeared to be a re-enactment of the play right in front of you. As part of the demo, Microsoft also showed what appeared to be a VR tabletop. Instead of watching the game on a TV, you’d watch it on a tabletop. You could then touch the screen, and miniature VR players would appear on your tabletop.

As more and more studios develop VR movies, it’s likely that we’ll get smart TVs capable of playing them, as long as you’re wearing a VR headset. For example, at the recent Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, there was a segment of the show devoted purely to immersive VR experiences. In one film, you could strap on a VR headset – in addition to a real bulletproof vest – and walk onto a mini-stage set, complete with trees and bushes. A VR movie then started on your headset, in which you were immersed in a world of elephant poachers in Africa. At times, you were flying overhead in a helicopter, at other times, you were riding through the bush on a jeep. But it felt real.

#4: Holograms

Most holograms today are really just a fancy parlor trick and optical illusion that’s been around since the 18th century. But a real holographic experience would be similar to one in the movie “Star Wars,” where a hologram of the jedi Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared with a message. Using a smart TV, you’d be able to have similar types of holographic experiences.

For example, let’s say that you order an On Demand concert performance by your favorite singer (for the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s Beyonce). If you pressed the “hologram” button on your TV’s remote, you might see a hologram of Beyonce appear in front of you, singing and dancing to her best songs.

And that scenario is not completely out of the question. Thanks to a new technology known as Ultra-D, it’s possible to create realistic 3D images using light fields, parallax barriers, and software. And you don’t even need 3D glasses to view them properly! It’s being billed as an immersive “glasses-free 3D viewing experience.”

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It may be hard to predict the future of smart TV precisely, but we do know it’s going to include more than just a lot more pixels. It will include innovative types of experiences and content drawing on technologies already available today. And it will likely be a lot more immersive and interactive than just sitting on a couch eating potato chips. In fact, a decade from now, we might look back fondly on the term “couch potato” and view it as a quaint anachronism.

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The Ease and Appeal of Google Chromecast

The primary allure of the Google Chromecast has always been its ability to wirelessly stream Netflix, Spotify, HBO or Hulu content from your mobile device or PC to your TV. Moreover, it was able to do this at a very affordable price – just $35 for the tiny Chromecast dongle. But did you know that there’s a lot more that the Chromecast is able to do? Just check out some of these creative ways to use the Chromecast, proving once again how handy it is.

#1: Send live broadcasts to your TV

Ever since Facebook debuted Facebook Live, people have been looking to live broadcast bits and pieces of their lives. This might be a live broadcast from a birthday party or a “wish you were here” clip while on vacation. Well, you don’t have to watch all those Facebook Live broadcasts on just a tiny mobile phone anymore. You can use the Chromecast to send a Facebook broadcast to the TV. Your friends and family will appear larger than life as they give a live feed from a game, concert or event. Whenever you get a notification from Facebook that one of your friends has a live broadcast in process, it’s time to pull out the Chromecast.

#2: Send photos to your TV

It’s possible to cast photos from Google Photos on an iOS or Android device to your TV. Imagine coming back from vacation and having hundreds of photos on your phone that you want to show others. Now you can invite them to your living room and show them on the big screen. You can turn this into a real entertainment experience. Just dim the lights and turn on the right music to set the scene for your viewers.

#3: Watch TV with the volume cranked down to zero

There is a mobile app called LocalCast that enables you to cast video to your TV while keeping the audio on your device. If you plug in your earphones, you’ll have a completely muted experience – you may have a gorgeous movie playing in HD on your TV, but people around you won’t hear a thing. Pro tip: this is a great way for parents to enjoy a movie after the kids have been packed off to bed. You won’t have to worry about waking them up when a loud explosion goes off in the R-rated action-adventure film you’re watching together.

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#4: Take Chromecast with you on vacation

No more being at the mercy of hotels for your entertainment options. You can take your Chromecast with you on vacation and use it to play content on your hotel’s TV. You have two options here – you can either call the hotel IT desk and have them hook up your Chromecast to the hotel Wi-Fi network, or you can bring a travel router that plugs into an Ethernet port in the wall. In the second case, you’d have to connect your Chromecast and the travel router to make sure they can talk to each other. But the result is magic: you can stream content in your hotel room, just like you would at home.

#5: Have a virtual reality experience

Ok, here’s where things get really interesting. You can combine the Google Daydream VR headset and the Chromecast to show what’s on your headset on your TV. Thus, as you are exploring a virtual world, you can let people join in on the fun. This helps to make virtual reality (VR) a more social experience. Instead of having your friends seeing you just twisting and turning your neck every now and then and letting out an audible, “Wow,” let them see exactly what you’re seeing in virtual reality.

#6: Play games on the TV

Just like you can stream movies on your TV, you can also stream games. There are a growing number of games made specifically for Chromecast in the Google Play store. Most of these are fun family games that you can enjoy with your kids, like “Trivia Bash” or “Just Dance Now” (if you want to get your groove on). If it’s a rainy day and your kids are getting cabin fever, this might be a fun, low-cost way to keep them from running around the house.

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#7: Have a presentation on your TV

If you use Google Slide, you can show your presentation with Chromecast since Google Cast is built into Chrome. In other words, you can carry around your corporate presentation with you on your phone and then project it on a TV to give a true big screen effect to your latest slides. Once you’ve figured out this little trick, you’ll never want to give a PowerPoint presentation on your laptop again.

#8: Play music on your TV

You can also take advantage of the audio qualities of your TV to play music. You can do this via the Google Play Music app. Just open up the app, select the Cast icon, and then choose Chromecast. From there, you can have an impromptu DJ performance in your living room. Or just stream music during a party. If you’ve invested in a home entertainment system, it’s time to make the Chromecast the center of that system.

#9: Watch your movies in stunning 4K

Google Chromecast recently released an upgrade, known as 4K Ultra, that enables you to stream 4K content. If you went out and bought the latest and greatest TV that boasts a stunning 4K picture, this might be worth the upgrade. You now have the ability to watch stunning content in the highest possible resolution.

#10: Use the Chromecast to decorate your room

We said the Chromecast was handy, right? It now comes in such colorful options that it seems like it would make a wonderful piece of décor for your room to match with art on your walls. At the very least, you can use it as a paperweight.

As you can see, the uses of the Google Chromecast are limited only by your imagination. Seemingly every week, there’s a new use unveiled for the Chromecast. Any digital content, it seems, can be cast to your TV. So, whatever you do, don’t refer to your Chromecast by the derogatory term “dongle” anymore. It’s way, way more than that. It’s cheap, portable and very handy.

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How Will Live Streaming Affect This NFL Season?

Changes in the live streaming industry continue to reverberate everywhere, changing the way we think about entertainment, news and sports. Perhaps the best place to see this dynamic at work is with the NFL, which is continually looking for ways to widen its fan base and provide a superior viewing experience via live streaming.

The days are long gone when the only way you could catch an NFL game was by tuning into broadcast TV at a certain time. Once Monday Night Football moved to ESPN, it meant that you seriously had to consider cable TV. And as live streaming became popular, it meant that streaming services such as Sling TV became very relevant for football fans who wanted to pay the minimum possible and still get their NFL action. And in 2016, the NFL changed the game even further, by streaming Thursday Night Football games on Twitter.

So there are clearly a lot of changes happening right now with how the NFL delivers its action to fans. Here’s what to watch out for in the 2017 NFL season in terms of live streaming.

#1: New Live Streaming Partners

During the first week of April, the NFL announced that Amazon.com – not Twitter – would become the new live streaming partner for Thursday Night Football. Amazon hasn’t released much about what its live streaming option will include, only that it will only be available for Amazon Prime members.

Tying the live stream to Amazon Prime membership makes sense – after all, Amazon reportedly paid $50 million for the right to live stream a whopping total of 10 games! It’s easy to do the math – that’s $5 million per game. Assuming that the cost of Amazon Prime membership will be $99 per year, it looks like Amazon will need to sign up 50,000 new Amazon Prime members each week to make this deal work!

Most likely, Amazon will include the live NFL action as another reason to buy new Amazon Fire streaming sticks. Last season all you needed was a Twitter account to get live NFL action: this year you will need some kind of hardware to stream the game to your TV.

#2: A More Fragmented Viewing Experience

In addition to Amazon, there are now at least three other ways to stream NFL action without having cable TV: Sling TV, Playstation Vue and NFL Game Pass. If you have cable TV and a tablet or smartphone, then you can stream the games on mobile apps from NBC, Fox, ESPN and NFL Network.

But here’s the thing: it might take a combination of several different streaming services to get exactly the right mix of games. Last season, for example, Sunday games were available on CBS and Fox, Sunday night games were on NBC, Monday night games were on ESPN, and Thursday Night Football games were on CBS, NBC or NFL Network (depending on the week).

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Confused yet?

So, let’s say you’ve cut the cord with cable and are using Sling TV to get your TV content. You would need Sling Blue to get NFL Network, and you would need Sling Orange to get ESPN. So you would need Sling Orange and Blue to get all the games on Sunday and Monday.

Oh, but wait, there’s just one problem with that strategy – local Fox and NBC streaming feeds are not available in all markets with Sling TV, so that means you might still have no way to watch Sunday Night Football (on NBC) or Sunday games (on Fox). And when Thursday Night Football was on NBC, you’d have to watch it via Amazon!

So you can see why watching football is going to be a very fragmented experience for anyone who doesn’t have cable TV. By the time you combine all the necessary services (like $99 for Amazon Prime!), maybe it’s just easier to sign up for cable TV and stop trying to patch together a lot of different streaming options!

#3: New Types of Screen Experiences

The big allure of signing up Twitter last season was that the NFL could tap into a vast new audience of social media users who might not otherwise watch football. If all your friends are tweeting about the game, then it might encourage you to tune in as well. The single best ad for the NFL, theoretically, is a Twitter feed that fills up with NFL-related tweets.

In theory, Twitter + NFL should have meant even more of a “second screen experience.” In other words, people would be watching the game on TV while sending out funny tweets on their tablet. But maybe that’s not what the NFL really wants. Maybe it’s better for the NFL if all the social interaction actually occurs on the TV screen.

Moreover, a lot of users complained about the Twitter experience last year. One big #fail was the fact that there was a 15-to-30 second delay between the linear broadcast and the live stream. That means people on Twitter were sometimes sending out tweets about what just happened 30 seconds before you saw it yourself! You’d be watching your team, huddled down near its own end zone, and people on Twitter would be talking about some amazing play. And then – boom! – the star player on your team streaks down the sideline for an 80-yard touchdown. So that’s what they were just tweeting about!

One type of new screen experience that people are talking about this year is better integration of stats, scores and fantasy football information right on your screen. Thus, say the quarterback on your fantasy football team just threw a touchdown – instead of checking on your mobile app to see how that play  changed your fantasy football score, you’d see it right on the screen.

The key here is that people prefer to watch NFL on the big screen. That’s why people go to bars to watch games – the screen is bigger than the one at home. That’s why the guy or girl with the biggest TV screen always hosts the Super Bowl party – you want to be able to see all the action on a huge HD or 4K screen!

So, looking ahead to the 2017 season, there’s a lot to keep in mind about live streaming. Once Amazon announces how it plans to deliver Thursday Night Football action, you can start plotting out the ultimate live streaming experience if you don’t have cable TV. And, even if you do have cable, you’ll want to check out whether you will need to upgrade to a higher tier to catch all the action on NFL Network or NFL RedZone.

This might just be the season where Sling TV and Playstation Vue find themselves dealing with mass defections of NFL fans, who are starting to realize that the “skinny bundle” popularized by these streaming services might not deliver all the hard-hitting football action they want every Sunday, Monday and Thursday. Now that the big streaming players have shown that NFL action can be a premium offering, it’s going to be interesting to see what changes they make in the live streaming market.

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Is Binge-Watching Potentially Detrimental?

Binge-watching is a habit that millions of Americans have embraced, but now some researchers are warning that hours spent in front of the TV could have some negative side-effects. So is binge-watching potentially detrimental?

Big streaming companies like Netflix certainly don’t think so. In fact, Netflix encourages users to enjoy the binge. It’s a guilty little pleasure that’s a great way to share an experience with a friend. In fact, Netflix says that 6 in 10 streamers regularly engage in binge-watching, which the company defines as watching between two and six episodes of a show in a single sitting.

Health risks

On the surface, there’s no fundamental difference between a regular “couch potato” who stares at the TV while reclining on the couch for hours at a time and a Netflix binge-watcher who stares at a TV while sitting on that same couch. And all that physical inactivity simply isn’t good for you, especially if you’ve spent all day sitting at your desk. Sedentary behavior, if it becomes an ingrained habit, can increase your health risks for diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

However, is it the case that binge-watching is the same as being a couch potato? Given the fact that many people stream content to their tablet or smartphone, it could be the case that people are watching a show while moving around, such as running on a home treadmill. As long as you’re standing, stretching and doing some walking around between episodes, you’re reducing the worst of the health risks.

Social isolation

OK, but what if you binge-watch alone? According to survey data from entertainment research firm Marketcast, 56% of people binge-watch alone and 98% binge-watch at home. That would seem to suggest that binge-watching is largely a solo activity that you’re not engaging in while in public.

But, again, facts can be deceiving. The whole point of binge-watching certain shows is to catch up with what your friends, family or work colleagues are talking about, right? How many times have you heard people talking about “Game of Thrones” and realized that you’d better get caught up if you want to be able to have a conversation with them? Some shows – like “Orange is the New Black” – become part of the pop culture world, so having a basic understanding of what’s happening in the show actually has positive (not negative) social implications.

Addictive behavior

There’s something about the binge that makes it addictive. You start out saying that you’re only planning on watching two or three episodes, and end up watching all 12 episodes. That’s a potential sign of dangerous addictive behavior. And another sign of addictive behavior is something that’s known as “Netflix cheating.” That’s when you promise to watch a show with someone, but then binge-watch more than you agreed to.

But as long as you can limit yourself to a certain number of episodes, you should be OK. Just as there’s nothing wrong about getting wrapped up in a mystery novel or spy thriller and reading more chapters than you planned, there’s nothing inherently wrong about watching more episodes than you planned.

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Whose side is Netflix really on?

The problem, really, is that the big streaming services have a vested interest in getting you to binge-watch. The more you binge-watch, the more you establish a relationship with Netflix, and the harder it is to say goodbye to your Netflix subscription.

Say, for example, you promise to give up Netflix as soon as you make it through every single episode of “Orange Is the New Black.” But then, just as you are about to finish the final season, you happen to read an article seductively titled something like, “Great shows coming soon to Netflix.” You decide to try out one or two of these shows, and before you know it, you’re trapped in another binge-watching cycle. And so it goes, over and over again.

Do you have a problem with binge-watching?

It’s this chronic binge-watching that might lead to problems. In fact, a more severe form of binge-watching is something that’s perhaps best known as marathon binge-watching. That’s when you decide to binge-watch not just a single series – but every season of that series, ever.

Believe it or not, but people have actually done studies on this, trying to determine how many hours you would need to spend binge-watching every episode of every season of a certain series. If you tried to watch all seven seasons of “The West Wing,” it would take you five full days. Do you really have five days of your life to devote to that show?

So perhaps it’s time to ask yourself several important questions to see if you have a problem with binge-watching:

  • Have you stopped enjoying the show you’re watching?
  • Are you neglecting household tasks or your studies?
  • Are you canceling social events to binge-watch a show?

If you answer “Yes” to any of these three questions, then binge-watching is detrimental. In the first case, it means that you’re watching TV for the sake of watching TV, and not because you’re deriving any real pleasure from it. In the second case, it means that all of that time spent watching TV is starting to intrude into your “real life.” And, finally, if you’re canceling social events to watch TV, then guess what? That’s basically the definition of anti-social behavior and you might have a problem.

Conclusions

As you can see, there’s no easy way to tell if binge-watching is detrimental or not. As with most things in life, the key to success is moderation. Just as there’s nothing wrong with occasionally having a few beers with your colleagues, there’s nothing wrong with occasionally binge-watching a few of your favorite shows. However, when behaviors persist over a long enough period of time, that’s when they start to become addictive.  And addiction means that the brain starts to crave more of it, in order to achieve the same effect.

As a golden rule, you should think about how many hours of TV you’re watching each week and try to keep it within manageable levels. Don’t overdo it, and make sure that binge-watching a show is not just an excuse to have a tub of popcorn every night!

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How Will Live Streaming TV Be Different From Cable?

This could be the year that members of the cord-cutting generation finally put an end to cable TV as we know it. While there are already two primary live streaming TV alternatives that everybody knows about – Sling TV and PlayStation Vue – there are also a handful of options that either launched at the end of last year or are planning to launch by mid-2017, including DirecTV Now, Hulu Live, YouTube TV and VIDGO.

In short, there are going to be a lot more ways to watch live streaming TV than ever before in 2017. So it’s only fair to ask: How will live streaming TV be different from cable?

That’s a great question to ask, since it helps us deconstruct the classic cable TV experience into its component parts: content, distribution, and functionality. The live streaming TV services are splitting apart each of these components, re-thinking them, and then recombining them in new ways to make pricing more affordable for customers.

Of course, as you’ll see below, you also have to keep in mind the various trade-offs that you might have to make as a live streaming TV customer. You didn’t really think that you’d get the same number of channels as cable and even more functionality at a cheaper price, did you?

Factor #1: Content

Let’s start with content, because that’s the first place you’ll notice a difference in the live streaming TV experience from the cable TV experience. Whereas you typically get 200+ channels with a cable TV provider, you might only get 30 to 50 channels with the core offering of an alternative streaming TV provider (as is the case with Sling TV and PlayStation Vue).

The key, then, is to figure out how many of the “best” content channels you’re getting. As long as you’re getting a few of the major networks, a major sports network like ESPN and a major news network like CNN, services like Sling TV figure you probably won’t care that you’re not getting 150 channels you wouldn’t watch anyway. That was the reason you decided to become a cord-cutter in the first place, right?

The new trend is to offer live streaming TV customers a “skinny bundle” that includes all the most popular channels. Then, customers can customize that bundle with all kinds of add-on packages or single premium networks. For example, you might get the Sling TV Orange package (30 channels), and then pay extra to get HBO. The number of possible permutations is really mind-boggling, and you have to pay careful attention that all those channel add-ons don’t start inflating the core price you’ve agreed to pay.

Factor #2: Distribution

You might wonder what “distribution” means, and it’s a really good term to know. It’s also a very important question to ask. Distribution is a very internet-centric term, but it just refers to how the content is delivered to you. As you might have guessed, the live streaming TV providers are using the Internet to provide all that great content, so in a certain way, they are dependent on the big cable providers who built all those nice, fat broadband pipes into your living room.

But here’s where things get really interesting – once you have Internet in your home, it means you can create a Wi-Fi network in your home, and that means – you guessed it! – that you can take your TV content with you wherever you go in your home. And you can watch it on just about any digital device – a tablet, a smartphone or a laptop computer. If you can get Internet service, and if you can download an app, you can watch the TV content. This really expands the pie in terms of the number of potential consumers.

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Factor #3: Functionality

The fundamental premise of a cable TV experience is that you can do just about anything with your TV once you have cable hooked up – you can watch live, linear TV; you can watch content On Demand; and you can record shows to your DVR. This is actually a very powerful argument, so the live streaming TV services have had to re-think this to make up for any deficiencies.

And this is what they came up with – a plan to wean you off your TV and get you to embrace the idea of watching TV on your tablet or other digital device. That way, they don’t need to worry about set-top boxes, equipment, or even if you have a TV. Instead of a physical DVR, you now have a “cloud DVR”! In fact, you may not even need an official “internet account” – if you’re a college student, you might just live off free Wi-Fi in your dorm and the local Starbucks, for example.

Who owns the customer now?

We’ve just looked at three very important factors – content, distribution and functionality. The live streaming TV services have all taken slightly different approaches to these, all in an attempt to offer a superior value proposition to users. That’s fantastic for the customer, of course, because more competition means more choice.

But here’s the strange thing – it’s not really clear who “owns the customer” these days. Think about it – with a cable TV provider, you signed up for a cable contract lasting one, two or three years. The company “owned” you. If you wanted to get any content that wasn’t live, linear TV, you essentially had to ask permission from them and then pay them.

But the live streaming TV service providers did away with contracts. You can quit and walk away at any time. So, a customer could theoretically sign up for Sling TV, stay for a month or two, quit, sign up for some bargain or special rate from DirecTV Now, quit, and then sign up for YouTube TV or PlayStation Vue or…

Well, you get the idea. Customer loyalty is really a thing of the past. The companies who “own” the customer these days are the most popular content companies – like HBO. It used to be the case that, in order to get HBO, you HAD to be a cable customer. No questions asked. But HBO essentially unbundled itself from cable. Now, it’s an a la carte option on the great streaming TV buffet table. You can get HBO with Sling TV, for example, and that’s got to make the big cable TV companies extremely upset.

You know why, right? Yes, of course, it’s because customers can kick cable TV companies to the curb now if they can get their HBO or ESPN elsewhere. So that might be the biggest change to the live, linear TV experience: a fundamental change in how customers think about all the great TV content they’re consuming.

The new paradigm is a massive “internet cloud” where every single piece of TV content resides. It’s just a matter of finding the right way to stream all that content to your device, and now there is a very robust set of options. Sling TV and PlayStation Vue were just the beginning of what has become a major new trend in how people watch live TV.

How Will Netflix Compete With Live TV Streaming?

At one time, Netflix was the undisputed leader in the streaming content space. When it was time to stream a film or TV show, the place you looked was Netflix. But after plenty of competition from the likes of Amazon.com, perhaps the greatest challenge yet awaits Netflix in 2017: the introduction of live TV streaming from rivals such as Hulu. So how will Netflix compete with live TV streaming?

That’s a great question to ask, and one that certainly Netflix CEO Reed Hastings has been asking. Until recently, Netflix could ignore the entry of live streaming TV players like Sling TV. In fact, Hastings has often pointed out that many of Sling TV’s customers end up becoming Netflix customers as well, simply because Sling TV’s archived film options are not nearly as deep or wide as Netflix’s.

But along came Hulu and its plan to offer live TV streaming. Hulu is fundamentally different from the other live streaming TV players for two basic reasons – (1) it’s owned by major media companies Disney, Fox and Time Warner and (2) it already has a much broader and deeper TV show archive than Netflix.

Point (1) is important because it’s conceivable that the biggest media companies in the world might start diverting all their best media content to Hulu, which they own. Why should they offer content to Netflix on the same terms that they offer this content to Hulu?

Point (2) is important because a person who primarily watches TV shows is not the same type of person who watches only movies. Hulu has always been known as the place to go if you want to watch recent TV shows the day after they air. Once Hulu Live launches, it will be even harder for Netflix to woo away TV viewers.

With people already paying for Hulu Live (which will be much more expensive than Hulu Plus), it’s possible that people could decide they just don’t have the wallet to pay for both Hulu Live and Netflix. And that’s especially true if the perceived content gap between Hulu and Netflix narrows considerably.

In response, Netflix has three different strategies that it can pursue to hold back the barbarians at the gate. Here’s a quick look at all three of them.

Netflix Strategy #1: Ramp up the original programming

If the major media companies won’t give Netflix their content, then Netflix will create its own content! In just the past three years, Netflix has significantly ramped up the number of original Netflix series and films that are available exclusively on Netflix.

You can think of this as the “HBO Strategy.” Just as people are willing to pay $10-15 extra per month to get HBO, they’re going to be willing to pay $10-15 per month to get Netflix. Just as HBO has amazing shows that nobody else does – like “Game of Thrones” – Netflix has its own share of amazing shows, like “House of Cards” or “Orange is the New Black.”

Netflix Strategy #2: Reinforce binge-watching behaviors

What’s so great about the binge, you might ask? Well, if you’re binge-watching the latest Netflix series – all 12 episodes – are you really going to have time to watch live TV? One big reason why people began bingeing on quality TV shows in the first place was because “there’s nothing on TV.”

Thus, Netflix has a real reason to encourage the binge. It means people are forming deep and loyal ties to certain shows, and if those shows are on Netflix – it means that they will always keep their Netflix subscription.

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Netflix Strategy #3: Go global

Here’s one place where Hulu can’t touch Netflix. Think about it – when Hulu is streaming 30 channels into your home, all of those channels are for the U.S. marketplace. All of the Hulu Live customers will be in the U.S., too. So while Hulu is busy marketing itself to Bangalore, Maine Netflix can spend time marketing itself to Bangalore, India.

Right now, Netflix has plans to enter 130 markets worldwide. That’s a huge source of future growth. So while Hulu is trying to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again by creating some form of live TV that people are going to pay for, Netflix is out signing up people in Europe and Asia.

So how much does Netflix really fear live TV streaming? Well, CEO Reed Hastings has referred to Hulu Live as “cable getting better.” That’s a backhanded compliment, basically implying Hulu is just making a few cosmetic improvements to the live TV experience – a better user interface, softer pricing and better bundling options.

But what about YouTube?

That observation might be true, or it might just be a way to keep Netflix’s investors from panicking and heading for the exits. And it might just be the case that the real rival to Netflix is not Sling TV or Hulu Live – it’s YouTube TV.

YouTube TV is an entirely new kind of competitor. Number one, it’s backed by Google, which has very deep pockets and a big lobbying presence in Washington. Number two, YouTube is just about one of the most popular destinations on the Internet, so in theory, converting a portion of FREE YouTube users into PAID YouTube TV users shouldn’t be too hard. And number three, YouTube has a lot easier time playing in the “long tail of content” than Netflix does.

Say, for example, both YouTube TV and Netflix want to create content that appeals to horror film fans. Well, Netflix would have to go out and hire some really expensive Hollywood talent, commission a few episodes of the show, wait for it to finish filming, and then release it all at one time. It would then have to hope that the show is so good that it will convince some people to sign up for Netflix.

In contrast, YouTube could just hit up one of the website’s “YouTube creators” to create great new content and promise them a cut of any advertising dollars. YouTube could hedge its bet, by commissioning several shows at once and see which one goes viral. That’s a much more efficient model than the expensive Netflix original content model.

Going forward, then, Netflix has a lot of choices of what to do to fend off the strategic threat from the likes of Sling TV, Hulu Live and YouTube TV. Right now, it looks like Netflix is doubling down on its original content strategy, winning over fans with its binge-worthy content and expanding internationally.

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What Does YouTube’s Future Hold?

It’s hard to believe, but YouTube is now more than a decade old. Back in 2015, when YouTube officially celebrated its 10th anniversary, the biggest tech blogs were full of stories referencing “10 more years of video domination” by YouTube. The basic sentiment was that YouTube was so dominant and so ubiquitous in the world of online video, that it was impossible to imagine any type of upstart taking over YouTube’s top position.

But flash forward to 2017, and it’s not so obvious that YouTube is the undisputed video king. You have serious inroads being made into live streaming by the social media giants (Facebook with Facebook Live, Twitter with Periscope), you have the creation of all kinds of new streaming video business models made possible by the likes of Netflix and Hulu, and you have the inevitable risk of a disruption to the video market that we haven’t even considered today (maybe 360-degree videos and the rise of virtual reality as a new way of watching video).

That being said, YouTube is still the home of the internet’s video creators — and that’s mostly because YouTube rewards its top creators very lavishly. If you’re a top YouTube video personality – someone like the gamer-comedian PewDiePie – you can expect to clear more than $1 million annually from views of your videos. That’s one area where YouTube has a massive head start on any other video rival – the ability to pay its creators.

Say, for example, you’ve embraced the whole Facebook Live platform and have begun to “live broadcast” bits and pieces of your life. Every time you go on camera, your Facebook friends get updates that you’re “live,” and they may tune in. But who is paying you to do this? Nobody — at least not yet.

Live streaming from mobile devices

If you listen carefully to what Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been saying recently, he’s been playing up the potential of Facebook Live and the internet’s embrace of the point-and-stream phenomenon. Think about it — video platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, Periscope and Facebook Live are designed for the mobile guy (or gal) about town, who spontaneously decides to live stream a concert taking place in the park, or a few stadium scenes from a football game, or maybe just your kid taking his or her first steps in life. It’s raw, authentic and unscripted. And people aren’t capturing those moments on YouTube, which is becoming much more of a scripted video reality.

Everyone wants to be a cable company — except the cable companies

Another interesting trend important for YouTube is the growth of massive niche video networks to take on the traditional cable networks. In fact, that was the original plan of YouTube – to create a huge long tail effect of niche content channels, see what works, and then relentlessly promote the most popular channels as part of a cable TV alternative.

That strategy eventually evolved into the whole YouTube Red experiment, in which the company essentially bundled all its premium content creators and told people they’d have to pay a fee to access all that great content. The good news, however, was that you wouldn’t be forced to watch all those annoying ads that typically precede, follow and interrupt any YouTube video.

But now YouTube is taking a different tack. In February, the company announced that it was going to launch a $35 per month live TV streaming service called YouTube TV. The basic premise was simple — the company would offer a “skinny bundle” of the top cable networks and charge people $35 per month. Essentially, you would be getting “cable lite” with fewer networks, but also a lower cost than you’d pay for a regular cable TV subscription. So is that an admission that the YouTube Red experiment is essentially over, and that the only thing people will pay for these days is mainstream (professionally produced) cable content?

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The race for the global audience

Many of these trends are on most obvious display in the U.S. video market, where most people have fast broadband connections, powerful smartphones and a seemingly infinite appetite for LOL cat videos. But what about in the rest of the world? As YouTube’s management team explained back in 2015, the goal was to make it possible for anyone in the world – no matter what type of internet service they had – to be able to watch YouTube videos. The goal was simple: make YouTube content available to as many people and as many devices as possible. More views equal more ad dollars, right?

But it’s not so clear that YouTube is going to be the undisputed global leader. There are plenty of other companies that are looking to make inroads, including Netflix. In 2016, Netflix announced an ambitious plan to take its content into 130 countries around the world. And Netflix wasn’t being shy about throwing around cash – it has been investing tens of millions of dollars to create high-end, original content. So what does the rest of the world want to watch – silly cat videos or professionally-produced studio content?

New technological disruption

Looking ahead to the future for YouTube, it’s clear that a number of possible technological innovations could change the way people consume video. This would represent a far graver threat to YouTube than just people opting to go to a competitor – it would challenge the very essence of what it meant to experience video online. That’s why YouTube has been particularly innovative when it comes to embracing video in all its different formats – video filmed by drones, video filmed by GoPro cameras, video filmed with 360-degree cameras – it just doesn’t want to be left behind.

But what if people decide one day en masse that they’d prefer to strap on a virtual reality headset and experience video in a new way? It would appear that, here too, YouTube has been hedging its bets. Well, not YouTube directly – but Google, which owns YouTube. In 2016, Google introduced the Google Daydream VR headset. So if people decide to start watching videos with headsets, YouTube might still be able to recover, as long as people want to use the Google Daydream.

Or what about the growth of 4K and 8K video? We’ve already seen how people have raced from 720p to 1080p and now to 4K. At each step of the way, YouTube has also raced to keep up, working harder to make sure that all YouTube videos can be enjoyed in their full resolution on any digital device.

Conclusions

Thus, it’s hard to really imagine anyone knocking off YouTube overnight. Facebook could try to mount a challenge from the low end of the point-and-stream video segment, Netflix could try to mount a challenge from the high-end original streaming content market, but what about everything in the middle? Just as YouTube has successfully warded off strategic threats for more than 10 years now, it looks to be particularly well-positioned to deal with its video rivals over the next decade.

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Which TV Should You Buy in 2017?

If you’re in the market for a new TV in 2017, there are a few important considerations to keep to mind. Price point is obviously a major factor, as it’s still hard to find a high-end 4K TV for less than $1000 and an OLED TV for less than $3000. And you’ll also have to take into consideration whether you want any smart TV functionality built-in so that you can start watching a streaming TV service like Netflix or Hulu right out of the box (literally). With that in mind, here are 6 of the best TVs to consider in 2017.

#1: LG B6 OLED 4K HDR Smart TV: The ultimate high-end selection for the TV purist

If you simply want the best TV on the market today, you really can’t go wrong with LG. The LG B6 has picked up rave reviews, and it’s obvious why: the brilliant colors seem to pop right off the 65-inch screen. In just minutes, you’ll see why OLED is considerably better than LED technology – every pixel seems to come alive. Moreover, the TV comes with webOS 3.0 smart functionality. However, at a suggested retail price of $3499.99, it’s not cheap. (Compared to the LG OLED E6P, which retails for $3997.00, though, it’s a relative bargain.)

#2: TCL Roku TV S3750/FP110 Series: The ultimate affordable selection for the TV viewer on a budget

Ok, so we’ve already seen what’s available at the high end, so it’s time to check out the real bargain in premium TVs, and this Roku TV fits the bill. It has built-in smart TV, which means that streaming is essentially included as a key part of the overall TV experience. If you’ve cut the cord with cable, then you understand why this is so important – you can use Roku for all of your streaming needs. The picture quality could be improved, but for non-4K televisions, the price ($279.99) is simply too low to pass up. You could upgrade to the TCL Roku TV US 5800 Series, which retails for $999.000. That’s still at the all-important $1000 price threshold, so it’s relatively affordable as well.

#3: Vizio M-Series 2016: Best overall mid-range value

The only real drawback of the Vizio M-Series TV is that you’re not getting a TV set from a name-brand manufacturer like Sony, Samsung or LG. But if you can get past that, then Vizio is a great option. The M-Series retails for around $1399.99, which is about what you should expect to pay for a really great picture from a 4K set. You could upgrade to the Vizio P-Series, which offers an even better picture and is just about as good as you’re going to get without getting into OLED territory (but it comes with a price tag of $1899.99).

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#4: Sony XBR-X930D Series: Best LCD TV, period

The slim style and the magnificent picture quality of this Sony XBR-X930D makes it the single best LED LCD TV. If you’re not quite ready to splurge for an OLED set, this is a great second choice. At $2199.99, it’s not cheap – but it also represents a significant price savings from what you can expect to pay for an OLED TV.

#5: Vizio E-Series 2016: Best budget TV, period

Remember the good old days, when it was possible to get a TV for less than $500? Well, Vizio has you covered with the E-Series. It has received a number of accolades from top TV reviewers, who have called it the best budget TV for overall picture quality. It’s not quite as good as the Roku TVs, mostly because it has less features and functionality, but it’s an excellent choice for anyone considering a TV on a relatively constrained budget. That’s because you can pick up a Vizio E-Series for a suggested retail price of $479.99.

#6: LG 55EG9100: Best non-4K TV

LG has really become one of the elite TV manufacturers, and even though they’ve moved into 4K and OLED sets, they’ve also kept their non-4K sets innovative as well. This LG boasts a curved 55-inch screen, 1080p resolution and a truly extraordinary picture. .At $1395.00, it’s LG’s most affordable LED TV. If you’re looking for a slight upgrade, look no further than the LG 60 UH7700, a 60-inch 4K Ultra HD smart LED TV ($1497.00).

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**

As you can see, there are a number of factors that you need to take into consideration when buying a new TV in 2017. The most basic consideration, of course, is whether you want an LED, OLED or 4K TV. There’s an obvious trade-off here. Getting a high-quality 4K TV for less than $1000 is going to pose a real challenge. And, if you want an OLED TV with all those brilliant, gorgeous colors, guess what? You better allocate a cool $3000 for the purchase.

Once you’ve honed in on an approximate price point, that’s when you can start to find the right size TV for the room (if you’re buying for a living room, you’ll probably gravitate to the big 55-inch TVs) and also decide whether you want (or need) any smart TV functionality.

The real decision in 2017, though, is whether you are going to become a streaming TV enthusiast or if you are going to remain a linear TV type of guy (or gal). The real allure of the cheaper Roku TVs is that you won’t have to worry about using an Apple TV or other set-top box to stream shows or movies. It’s all baked into the Roku TV, so the only costs you’ll have are the actual rental or purchase fees. Now that streaming TV services like Netflix are investing tens of millions of dollars in exclusive films and shows, having access to this type of streaming TV option is becoming more and more necessary.

That being said, you will definitely want to avoid all the hype about pixel size. Yes, 4K sets do offer a better picture quality than 1080p sets — but only if you watch them close-up. If you plan on watching TV shows from all the way across the room, you may be wondering why you splurged for 4K. And, no surprise, there’s not nearly as much 4K TV content out there to consume. It’s not like you’re going to be watching your favorite primetime TV shows in amazing 4K — they’re still only offered in HD.

The good news is that there are plenty of TV sets to fit every budget and every TV viewing habit – and many of them are surprisingly affordable. That’s especially true if you’re willing to check out the latest TVs from Vizio. But if you’re one of those TV enthusiasts who has to always have the latest and greatest, then by all means, check out the amazing LG OLED TVs available!

App Review: Comcast’s Xfinity Stream

At the end of February, Comcast released the latest version of its streaming TV app, known as Xfinity Stream. The app enables Comcast customers to watch live TV and XFINITY On Demand on any device at home or on the go. Moreover, for X1 Cloud DVR customers, you can also stream or download your Cloud DVR recordings to your device and watch anywhere you go.

In many ways, then, what Comcast has done is open up the full power and potential of live streaming TV for the cable company’s on-the-go customer. If you have one of those X1 set-top boxes in your home, then you’ve just been given a lot more freedom to watch television when and how you want. Unlike the previous form of Comcast’s streaming TV app (known as Xfinity TV), this version makes it a lot easier to take cable TV content with you just about everywhere.

So why are Comcast customers not so enthusiastic about the new app? The website Android Police tracked down customer reviews of the app and found that there were three major complaints:

  • A lack of local channels when outside of your home Wi-Fi network
  • The lack of casting ability, such as what you can do with Google Chromecast
  • The lack of Android TV compatibility

Of these, by far the one mentioned most by fans was the inability to watch local channels outside of their home Wi-Fi network. On the surface, this might not seem like a big deal – if you’re already getting top networks like CNN, Fox, NBC, ESPN, BBC World News and The Disney Channel, why would you possibly care about local networks?

There’s a one-word answer to that question: sports. Say you’re a big Philadelphia Flyers fan and you like to watch their NHL hockey game each night on TV, and then you have to travel for business. The expectation is that you’d be able to pack your tablet into your carry-on bag, toss in your Chromecast or Amazon Fire TV Stick, and then when you get to the local hotel where you’re staying, watch the game on the hotel TV (even if you’re hundreds of miles away)

But here’s the thing — you can’t “cast” the game to the hotel TV since there’s no casting ability involved. And, secondly, you can’t get the local network anyway, and so unless the game is a nationally televised game, you’re probably not getting the Philly game in another market.

So let’s back up a second. What exactly are you getting access to with the Xfinity Stream app? Here’s a brief overview of what you can, in fact, get with the app:

  • Thousands of Xfinity On Demand TV shows and movies
  • 200+ live streaming channels from anywhere you have Internet

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Of these 200+ live streaming channels, approximately 50 of them are from Music Choice, meaning they are essentially music channels and not “real” cable networks. But, among the other 150 or so channels, you do get access to some of the real biggies – like ESPN, CNN and Disney. Essentially, you get the biggest and most important cable networks, and you get a nice choice of sports channels, including NBC Sports and Fox Sports. So you really can’t complain too much.

In addition, there are a few other extras added in to sweeten the Xfinity Stream app. You get a Spanish Guide, as well as Common Sense content ratings for anything you’re going to stream. You also get an option to filter your channels by favorites, to make it easier to find what you want. And, of course, you get a schedule of what’s on at any moment and all those music channels.

The basic idea is to replicate your home viewing experience anywhere you go. That’s why it’s so important that you get access to your X1 Cloud DVR — after all, it makes no sense to record so much great content if you can’t watch it when you want and where you want. But, with the new Xfinity Stream app, you get access to anything you’ve previously recorded. The content is in “the cloud,” so it’s yours for the asking. This marks an upgrade from previous Comcast app experiences, where it wasn’t always possible to access your DVR content if you were outside of your home Wi-Fi network.

Overall, it’s clear that Comcast has tried to listen to its customers. And it’s read the writing on the wall from the other streaming TV providers — if Comcast wasn’t going to provide streaming TV to its customers, then someone else was going to. This Xfinity Stream app will also be the new home for the company’s Stream TV service, which will be rebranded when it launches nationwide later in 2017. (Stream TV was an add-on service for Comcast customers to watch shows from a limited number of TV networks on their tablet, laptop or smartphone).

And Comcast obviously wants people to use the new app. They’ve made it possible so that the old Xfinity TV app automatically updates to Xfinity Stream on your iOS or Android device. They realize that people don’t care as much about being able to stream just within their home Wi-Fi network — they want to stream everywhere they go. The thinking of customers is the following: “I’m paying a huge sum of money each month to get Comcast content, and it’s not fair if I don’t have 24/7 access to it.”

So you can think of the new Xfinity Stream app as the new home for all mobile video from Comcast. It’s your one-stop destination for getting all streaming TV shows or films, all live streaming networks and all Cloud DVR content. There’s simply not a better app experience for Comcast users.

But that doesn’t mean that there’s not a better app experience, period. In fact, if there’s one thing that we can look forward to in 2017, it’s the continued emergence of bigger, better and more impressive streaming TV options. Comcast wants to hold onto its hard-won cable customers, and every other streaming service wants to poach them away. The good news for streaming fans (and Comcast customers) is that the dream of ubiquitous live streaming content wherever you go is quickly becoming a reality.

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