Comcast exec confirms interest in putting X1 platform on smart TVs

A Comcast technician works on a utility line in an undated photograph. (Photo: Pixabay/Creative Commons)

Comcast’s chief executive has confirmed a report published last month by a business publication that said the cable company is interested in putting its X1 platform on smart TVs.

At an investor event on Tuesday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said the company is exploring the possibility of licensing its X1 platform to smart TV manufacturers.

“We’re in the early days, but we’re looking at smart TVs on a global basis, and we’re wondering if we can bring that same tech stack and certain capabilities in aggregation to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs,” Roberts said.

Comcast developed the X1 platform for its line of IP-based set-top boxes, which began shipping to customers a few years ago. The operating system comes bundled with a voice-activated remote control and a handful of third-party streaming applications, including support for Netflix, Hulu and YouTube.

Comcast re-purposes its X1 platform for the company’s own streaming set-top box called Flex, which is offered to subscribers of Comcast’s Xfinity internet service for free. (The box is not available to Comcast’s cable TV customers.)

In recent years, Comcast has allowed competing cable companies to license X1 for their own IP-based boxes. Cox Cable and Canada’s Rogers are two Comcast clients who offer X1-powered boxes to TV subscribers.

Last month, Protocol reported Comcast had started pitching smart TV makers earlier this year about incorporating the X1 platform natively into TV sets. The cable company faces an uphill battle thanks to competition from Roku and Google’s Android TV, both of which have been offered in budget TV sets made by Element, TCL and Hisense for several years.

Comcast may also have a hard time convincing smart TV manufacturers to adopt X1 because the platform currently lacks an “app store” — Comcast chooses which third-party apps are supported and which ones aren’t through a complicated set of agreements. As of now, there are substantially fewer apps offered on X1 compared to Roku, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV and Apple TV, each of which have hundreds of apps available to download and all of which allow users to add or remove services based on their own preferences.

But that doesn’t mean customers are avoiding X1 altogether: It remains a sought after platform for Comcast’s cable TV subscribers, many of whom have upgraded to packages that are compatible with X1 boxes over the company’s legacy Motorola DVRs. On Tuesday, Roberts said Comcast’s Internet subscribers have been drawn to the X1-powered Flex as well, with the company shipping more than 2 million boxes to customers since it launched.

One reason for the sudden success of Flex: Comcast’s own Peacock streaming app, which launched nationally in July but was available three months earlier to Comcast customers with an X1-powered device. Comcast’s Internet customers were given the opportunity to watch Peacock early, but only if they had a free Flex box.