Comcast, Walmart Have Had Exploratory Talks About Producing a Smart TV

Todd Spangler
·3 min read

Comcast wants its video-streaming technology to become embedded in the guts of smart TVs to power internet media apps — and retailing giant Walmart may be among its first partners in the effort.

Walmart and Comcast have engaged in very early discussions about potentially creating a cobranded, internet-connected TV that would run a version of the cable operator’s X1 software to provide access to over-the-top services including NBCUniversal’s Peacock, according to a source familiar with the talks. The talks were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

But the two companies have so far held only a few initial conversations about such a hypothetical smart TV product and not at an executive-leadership level, the source added, indicating that a deal may not come together.

Comcast declined to comment. In a statement, Ryan Peterson, VP of electronics at Walmart U.S., said, “We’re constantly having conversations with current and new suppliers about innovation and new products we can bring to our customers, and we don’t share details of those discussions.” Walmart declined to comment further.

Comcast, along with the rest of the pay-TV industry, has seen its video subscribers steadily decline over the past few years — the result of consumer cord-cutting amid the rise of OTT streaming. In the most recent quarter, Comcast Cable lost 273,000 TV subscribers while it netted a record 633,000 total broadband customers.

NBCU’s Peacock, which provides free, ad-supported and subscription tiers, represents a big part of Comcast’s strategy to build a bridge to a streaming future. In the third quarter, Peacock hit nearly 22 million sign-ups (although Comcast didn’t disclose number of active users or paying subscribers).

Getting a version of Comcast streaming software baked into consumer electronics would let it control a crucial piece of the distribution chain, instead of being beholden to OTT gatekeepers like Roku and Amazon Fire TV. Two months after Peacock’s July 15 national launch, NBCU inked a deal with Roku for the app, but Peacock remains unavailable on Fire TV.

Comcast has already made its smart-TV ambitions known. CEO Brian Roberts, speaking at Goldman Sachs’ Communacopia conference in September, said the company is exploring ways to license the X1 television platform to smart TV manufacturers “on a global basis.”

“We’re wondering, can we bring our same tech stack or certain capabilities in aggregation to consumers who are relying more and more on smart TVs?” Roberts said. “We’ve done that with X1 when we syndicated it to Canada and to other operators in the United States. And we see a similar road map possibly for that.”

Last year, in another hedge against cord-cutting, Comcast launched Xfinity Flex, a set-top for its broadband-only customers, providing an array of OTT apps. The operator’s Flex monthly active user base of over 1 million as of the end of Q3 “more than offset the decline in the number of our traditional pay-TV video subscribers for the past two quarters,” Roberts told analysts on Comcast’s Q3 earnings call last week.

The operator provides one Flex set-top for free to broadband customers; additional boxes are $5 per month. In addition to Peacock, the 100-plus apps available on Flex include those for Netflix, HBO Max, YouTube, Showtime, Amazon Prime Video, Tubi, Pluto TV and Amazon Music, Pandora and iHeartRadio.

Meanwhile, having third-party X1-enabled devices also would let Comcast expand distribution of Xumo, the free-to-watch video company it bought in February 2020 for a reported price tag of more than $100 million. Since January, Xumo’s user base has soared 2.5 times to reach more than 24 million U.S. monthly active users, with total hours streamed over that period more than doubling, according to the company.

Pictured above: NBCU’s Peacock display in Rockefeller Plaza at the service’s press conference in January

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