Comcast may try to distribute its Flex box to non-customers

A picture of the Comcast logo on the front facade of a retail building.
The Comcast logo is seen on a retail store in Sacramento, California on July 3, 2015. (Photo: Matthew Keys/Graphic: The Desk)

A Comcast executive hinted this week that the cable company may distribute its streaming TV hardware beyond its customer base.

Right now, Comcast’s Internet-only customers are able to get a device called Flex as part of their service. The Flex box runs a variant of Comcast’s X1 operating system, which powers its smart set-top boxes for video customers.

Comcast now has more than 2 million Flex set-top boxes in the hands of its Internet-only customers, in part because those customers can only get access to the premium version of the cable company’s streaming service Peacock if they have one. Internet-only customers without Flex have to pay $5 a month for Peacock Premium.

Now, Comcast executives are considering ways to get the Flex platform in front of more people — and some believe that could lead to the cable company distributing the devices beyond its own customer base.

“Right now, it’s working great within footprint, but we’re building out plans beyond that,” David Watson, Comcast’s chief executive, said on a quarterly earnings call this week.

Watson didn’t explicitly say Comcast was considering distributing Flex to non-customers, but it wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for the cable company: It already licenses white-label versions of its X1 platform for video customers subscribed to Cox Cable in the United States and Rogers in Canada.

Watson did confirm that the company is exploring ways to franchise Flex for Comcast’s video customers in Europe. Comcast offers two pay TV services in three European countries: Sky, which is delivered over satellite, and a streaming TV service called Now TV.

Watson said Comcast is currently working on a “common software stack” that would allow Flex devices to be used by Sky customers. This would likely benefit Now TV customers the most, who must use either a Now TV-branded Roku box or another third party streaming device. Comcast acquired Sky and Now TV in 2018.