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Comcast to bring restricted live TV to the iPad

Mark Milian, CNN
Comcast's current Xfinity TV app offers a remote control and on-demand video free to subscribers.
Comcast's current Xfinity TV app offers a remote control and on-demand video free to subscribers.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Comcast's Xfinity TV app for iPad will get live TV by the end of the year
  • The AnyPlay program will launch first in two markets
  • Subscribers get access to all of their channels, but must watch at home
  • A current version of Comcast's iPad app makes on-demand video available to subscribers

(CNN) -- Comcast is on track to begin offering live television to subscribers' iPads as long as they stay near their home cable boxes, executives for the cable giant said in interviews.

A live-TV application and companion device will be made available to Comcast customers in two cities in the next few weeks, a spokeswoman said. The program will be called AnyPlay and will unlock iPad access to every channel included in a subscriber's cable package.

Comcast announced plans in January to offer live TV streaming on tablets in the home "later this year," but the company had not publicly provided an update.

Other cable and satellite TV operators, including Time Warner Cable, DirecTV and Cablevision, already offer live video to iPads, and they all require subscribers to be within range of their home Wi-Fi networks.

Comcast, the largest U.S. cable provider, with 24 million subscribers, will use a slightly different method to accomplish this, which Comcast says will have superior quality but still require the iPad to stay in the user's home.

"Quality is really important to us," Tom Blaxland, a senior director for the company's Xfinity TV digital platform, said in an interview Friday.

Subscribers will be able to get small gizmos that can be plugged into their current cable boxes. Those devices create a wireless signal dedicated to delivering live video to an iPad, Blaxland said. Later, the Xfinity website and mobile apps will get access to the live capability, he said.

The Comcast spokeswoman declined to say exactly when the trials would begin, or in which cities, or whether the feature would cost extra. The current version of the iPad app, which makes on-demand video available anywhere and includes a remote control for cable boxes, is free to subscribers.

No major video providers have been able to offer live video outside of the home because of the way agreements with TV networks are written, Blaxland said. Only technical workarounds like Sling Media's Slingbox, a device that connects to a cable box and broadcasts a home TV signal to a remote app, can skirt the issue.

"Most of the offerings out there today don't completely replicate the TV experience," said Jeremy Toeman, a former Sling Media vice president who is now an executive at software maker Dijit Media and pens a newsletter about the digital TV industry. Toeman commended Comcast for developing a service that encompasses all channels, but he said cable companies will need to create an offering that caters to subscribers when they're away from home.

Comcast executives aren't concerned about the in-home stipulation because most online video is watched at home anyway, according to research firm Nielsen. The report from this summer says 78% of tablet owners watch at home. Nearly half of Americans watch video online, the report says.

"People are consuming in the house," Blaxland said. "We expected people to be walking around watching on iPads, but that hasn't been the case."

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