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Comcast launching Netflix-like streaming service

February 21, 2012 |  1:11 pm

"Oceans Eleven"This post has been corrected, as indicated below.

With an eye toward holding onto current subscribers and attracting new ones who may be tempted by Netflix, Comcast Corp. is rolling out a new subscription streaming service that boasts a mix of TV re-runs and older films.

Called Xfinity Streampix, the service launches this week and allows users to watch content on televisions and Internet-connected digital devices like smartphones.

It will be free to customers who get their video, Internet and phone service from Comcast. People who get only their TV from the company will pay $5 per month. Netflix streaming costs $8 per month.

While the new service inevitably drew comparisons to Netflix, and spurred a 3% drop in that company's stock Tuesday, there are notable differences. Comcast's initial agreements with Walt Disney Co., Sony Pictures, Warner Bros., and NBC Universal (which the cable giant owns) provide it with less content than Netflix currently offers.

Xfinity Streampix users will get access to television shows like "30 Rock" and "Grey's Anatomy" and films like "Brokeback Mountain" and "Ocean's Eleven," but can't watch TV shows like "Mad Men" and movies like "Drive" that are exclusively on Netflix.

In addition, while anyone with an Internet connection and a digital device can access Netflix, Xfinity Streampix is available only to the people who live in areas covered by Comcast. Currently, there are 23.2 million homes that have Comcast television service, including many in San Francisco, Oakland and Sacramento.  Los Angeles is not part of the Comcast footprint, which also covers Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Miami and Houston. 

"We have no plans to take this outside our footprint," Marcien Jenckes, Comcast's general manager of video services, said in an interview. "It is not at all our intention to compete with Netflix."

Among cable companies, Comcast has been the most aggressive in adding new services to respond to the explosion of portable devices while trying to retain its core customers.

"This is an extension of our strategy to give consumers the content that they love where and when they want it," Jenckes said. "This just makes our existing subscriptions more valuable."

Netflix is not the only threat. The service could make Comcast more attractive, in the company's service areas, than subscriptions offered by satellite companies Dish Network and DirecTV and telephone companies Verizon and AT&T.

This new service adds to the more than 75,000 TV shows and movies currently available on Comcast's Xfinity On Demand service. Users pay for each film or episode through that more traditional video on-demand offering, which features more recent movies than the subscription package.

[For the record, 3:18 p.m. Feb. 21: An earlier version of this post said that 52.5 million homes have Comcast television service. In fact, Comcast has 22.3 million subscribers. The service is potentially available to 52.5 million homes in the regions served by the cable operator.]

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-- Meg James and Ben Fritz

Photo: Brad Pitt and George Clooney in "Ocean's Eleven." Credit: Bob Marshak / Warner Bros.

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