Watch Netflix over cable — yes, it's happening as Comcast X1 deal goes live

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Watch Netflix over cable — yes, it's happening as Comcast X1 deal goes live

The unusual deal could help Netflix with slowing subscriber growth.

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Watch Netflix over cable — yes, it's happening as Comcast X1 deal goes live

Mike Snider , USA TODAY 3 a.m. EDT November 4, 2016
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A new update to Comcast's X1 cloud-based TV platform adds Netflix fully integrated with the pay-TV provider's other content.(Photo: Comcast)

Comcast and Netflix, a hookup many didn't see coming, becomes official next week as Xfinity customers begin receiving Netflix on their X1 cable TV boxes.

This pairing of a leading pay-TV provider and top Internet TV service may seem counterintuitive. One represents the establishment — cable TV, the reigning home entertainment choice for decades. The other? The streaming upstart that heralded a wave of "cord-cutters" and "cord-nevers" that's shaken established pay TV to its roots.

The companies have even fought publicly, most notably in 2014 when Netflix opposed Comcast's failed attempt to acquire Time Warner Cable and bemoaned Netflix delivery speeds on Comcast.

But both companies say this arrangement, which adds Netflix to Comcast's X1 platform, is an improvement for not only Comcast customers who already subscribe to Netflix, but also those who may want to join eventually. The X1 update, which begins rolling out as soon as Friday, will include Netflix series such as The Crown and House of Cards and movies such as The Ivory Game along with other live TV and on-demand programs on Comcast's TV service from networks ranging from A&E to WGN.

Customers "don't really care about us and Comcast fighting," said Netflix CEO Reed Hastings in an interview. "They just want a great experience for television."

Comcast customers who are already Netflix subscribers will need to sign in to Netflix once after their X1 box updates. Comcast subscribers who do not currently use Netflix can sign up on the system and be billed monthly by Comcast. Neither company would comment on the terms of their agreement, but Netflix generally shares some revenue from new subscribers with device makers and mobile providers.

Hastings, a Comcast Xfinity customer, said the integration as "the most convenient UI (user interface) we've ever had."

Netflix has partnered with smaller U.S. pay-TV providers before and in September announced a major integration deal with Liberty Global, which has more than 29 million customers in 30-plus countries. The Comcast deal, Hastings said, is "a big boost in the number of households that can get Netflix on their TV."

That could help boost Netflix's slowing U.S. subscriber growth, currently at 47 million. So far, its 2.76 million domestic subscribers added over the first nine months of 2016 represent a 32% decline from new additions over the same period last year.

Comcast's Xfinity X1 cloud-based DVR and voice remote.

Comcast's Xfinity X1 cloud-based DVR and voice remote. (Photo: Comcast)

Comcast has seen benefits from its X1 platform, which it began rolling out in 2012. While the overall pay-TV industry has seen a decline in subscribing homes, Comcast has added 170,000 video subscribers over the past twelve months.

"The X1 platform, coupled with the X1 voice remote, has improved retention. People are staying longer," Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit in an interview. Of Comcast's 23 million homes, more than 45% have the X1 box, with half expected to get one by year's end. And about 10 million currently have the X1 voice remote.

"It's improved video on-demand purchases," he said. "We have a cloud DVR that stores all your content in the cloud and you can access it from different places. People are purchasing more services because they are available and easy to use."

Hastings calls the X1 voice remote "magic. I just push the voice button and say, 'Netflix' and ... it's on the screen."

Big picture-wise, the Comcast-Netflix deal is symbolic, Hastings said, "because it's Netflix and the cable industry working together.

"Fundamentally, we are a channel like HBO. We have got amazing content. So, from the consumer’s perspective, we ought to be integrated."

Follow Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider

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