Comcast considers buying TV manufacturer to bolster XClass, report says

A screen showing apps available on a Comcast X1-powered Flex streaming device. (Graphic by The Desk)

Telecom giant Comcast has approached several television manufacturers about a possible acquisition, according to a report published this week.

On Tuesday, the technology website Protocol said one of the companies Comcast has approached is Vizio, the California-based manufacturer of low-cost televisions that range from budget sets to fully-loaded models.

Vizio has spent several years developing SmartCast, its in-house streaming television platform that offers access to popular services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, Disney Plus and YouTube. The company generates revenue through its advertisement product Platform Plus, which earned $102 million for Vizio last quarter.

Comcast competes against Vizio with its X1 platform, which is integrated into its latest generation set-top boxes for cable customers and Flex streaming boxes for Internet subscribers. Like SmartCast, X1 offers most popular streaming apps — and, like Vizio, Comcast has recently started integrating X1 into its own line of smart television sets under the XClass brand.

Protocol said it confirmed Comcast’s interest in Vizio through three unnamed sources who affirmed the cable giant approached the electronics company.

Comcast is also reportedly interested in TP Vision, a subsidiary of a China-based electronics manufacturer that makes televisions under the Philips brand. The cable company already has a relationship with TP Vision, as it makes Comcast’s X1-powered smart television sets in the United Kingdom that are marketed under the brand Sky Glass.

A tie-up with either company is far from certain: Comcast’s discussions were said to have occurred in 2021 and again earlier this year, though Protocol said it wasn’t clear if they were still ongoing. The extent of Comcast’s interest in TP Vision was not clear, nor was it known if the company had approached other television manufacturers with a similar goal in mind.

Comcast’s recent decision to wade into the streaming platform war is unusual: Roku and Amazon have offered cheap streaming devices for several years, and the decision to sell feature-filled devices at budget prices helped both companies secure 70 percent of the domestic streaming platform market.

While Comcast may be a late entry to the space, it has seen some success with it Flex-powered devices by offering them for free to cord-cutting customers who continue subscribing to the company’s Xfinity-branded Internet service. A Flex-powered device is also required for Comcast’s Internet customers to get free access to the company’s streaming TV service, Peacock. Last year, a Comcast executive said around 3.5 million Internet-only customers had a Flex box.

Earlier this year, Comcast said it would create a joint venture with Charter Communications to create a streaming entertainment platform with greater reach. As part of the joint venture, Charter put up $900 million while Comcast licensed its X1 operating system. In the future, Comcast’s Xfinity customers and Charter’s Spectrum subscribers will be able to buy X1-powered Flex boxes, XGlass TV sets and other devices from each company and in retail stores across the country.

Some analysts say Comcast’s aggressive push in the streaming market, while late, is intended to harness greater control over a customer’s living room experience.

“The smart TV operating system is, in some ways, the new cable box,” Jason Cohen, a former financial analyst who now runs his own streaming TV marketplace, said in a May interview. “People like to reference the ‘streaming wars,’ but there’s also a platform war, and the people who make the TV operating system, they’re in charge.”