Why Is Comcast Putting Dish’s Sling TV On Its Cable Box?

Image courtesy of Comcast

Comcast’s X1 platform is basically a fancy, cloud-based, internet-connected cable box. It may be able to run all kinds of apps, but at its core, it is the set-top device that Comcast pay-TV subscribers get to watch the TV channels that they pay Comcast for. So if your reaction to the news that it’s going to host a streaming pay-TV competitor directly is, “wait, what?!,” you are not alone.

That’s exactly what Dish and Comcast announced this week, though: Dish’s Sling TV streaming, over-the-top, internet-based TV service will soon be available on the Comcast X1 platform.

On the surface of it, the idea of paying a cable company for TV service just to then pay a satellite/streaming company again for access to the same set of TV channels seems completely ridiculous. And, yes, that would be.

But there are channels Sling carries that Comcast doesn’t, and that’s the big draw here. Sling offers a big array of international channels, available in more than 20 languages (and that doesn’t even include all the Spanish-language programming).

Access to that international programming is really what Comcast wants to bring in here. The company’s statement about the deal focuses hard on how fast the market segment of “multicultural consumers” is growing. In short, non-English programming that shows what’s happening in other parts of the world is a big growth opportunity for Comcast, and “growth” in busines terms equals “money.”

So Comcast’s reasoning is actually pretty easy to follow: Sling already has a foothold in the market, with access to hundreds of channels, so why spend time and money reinventing the wheel when you can just license it, instead?

It’s also a win for Sling, which can recruit new customers from a broader pool than just “cord-cutters,” and gets to put its service in front of more than 20 million Comcast TV subscribers in the U.S.

Overall, Comcast seems to have decided the X1 platform is the best way for it to make friends — or at least business partners — out of everyone. Cable “frenemy” Netflix is now available on the X1 as a premium channel like HBO, for example. And Comcast execs have recently talked up how great it is for them to lease the X1 to other cable companies, like Cox, as well.

Dish, too, has been at odds with Comcast in the past. Back in April, a Sling TV exec said that the data caps that Comcast and other cable companies impose exist to “sabotage” the growth and delivery of online video. But it seems that getting a spot on Comcast’s own delivery system has helped them bury that particular hatchet.

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