Comcast brings free TV to students’ laptops

by Christina Bartson / Beacon Staff • November 21, 2013

With Xfinity on Campus students can now watch free TV on their laptops.
With Xfinity on Campus students can now watch free TV on their laptops.

For Emerson students, watching television can be homework. The aspiring broadcast journalist watches CNN while eating her morning Cheerios, and the future comedy writer tunes in to Saturday Night Live once a week. Now these students have another option for watching TV through Emerson’s pioneering use of Comcast’s new online service, Xfinity on Campus.

Xfinity on Campus, which launched at Emerson Sept. 1, is an Internet Protocol television service, or IPTV, that allows students who live on campus to stream live television from their computers.

Emerson is the first and only school in the country to sign a contract for IPTV with Comcast, the nation’s largest cable provider, said Joe Sweeney, director of engineering at Emerson.

“We have the total attention of Comcast,” said Sweeney.

To use Xfinity on Campus, students must register with their Emerson login to verify they live on campus, and then they can stream live TV from any school building. The website offers over 200 free channels of live television, On Demand TV shows, and films. Premium channels like HBO and Showtime can be bought with a subscription. Emerson’s cable plan, available on television sets in the dormitories, offers 43 channels.

Tania Diao, a junior visual and media arts major, said she began using Xfinity on Campus in September. Like some Emerson students, Diao didn’t bring a television to school with her, but said she now watches important live events from her laptop using Xfinity.

“For anything like award shows, or the Red Sox World Series game, I go for it,” she said.

Sweeney said the school has had a strong relationship with Comcast.  The company developed its new IPTV project around the time Emerson was about to renew its cable contract with it this summer, so Comcast employees recognized Emerson’s reputation as a media-savvy school, and thought Emerson would be a suitable guinea pig, according to Sweeney.

“I felt strongly Emerson was the right school,” said Sweeney. “Emerson is the next generation of media.”

Kevin Estavanik, a junior visual and media arts major, said he first learned about Xfinity on Campus at the beginning of the semester. He said he now uses the service two or three times a week. 

On the night of Breaking Bad’s series finale, Estavanik said he joined a group of students watching the show using Xfinity on Campus in a Colonial Building common room. Breaking Bad is on AMC, which is offered on the online Xfinity service, but not through Emerson’s cable service.

“Comcast gave us the ability to watch one of the greatest shows on television in HD,” said Estavanik.

Frankie Frain, the interim director of telecommunications and network at Emerson, said Comcast is working on the few glitches students reported in focus groups with representatives from the service. Estavanik said that during the finale of Breaking Bad, the screen froze momentarily during a climactic scene.

Frain said Xfinity on Campus is designed to continue working even if a part of the system fails or the Internet connection is lost.

“If there is a network hiccup, you don’t lose the content that you didn’t see while it was hiccupping,” said Frain. “It will actually buffer and resume playing so you don’t miss anything.”

Frain said another reason he likes the new service is because it decreases the chances of copyright violations caused by illegally streaming media online. Emerson has a strict copyright policy, available for viewing on the school’s website. Members of the college found in violation of these laws can be fined up to $150,000 for each work infringed. 

“We want our students to be caught up on the latest shows,” said Frain, “but we want them to be doing it legally.”

 Frain said he believes Emerson is playing an important role in what he called a noteworthy media innovation.

 “If it’s our mission to be on the cutting edge of media creation,” said Frain, “then we also have an interest in being on the cutting edge of media delivery.”