Comcast Tests ‘Custom Xfinity Integration (CXI)’ Dealer Program
Announced at HTSA, Comcast's Custom Xfinity Integration (CXI) program grants integrators remote access to clients' X1 set-top boxes for reboots and control; provides dealer-only 800 number, training on X1 and other new product lines.
It’s about time that one of the cable companies stopped fighting custom integrators and instead looked to partner with them. That’s exactly what mega-cable company Comcast is doing with its new Custom Xfinity Integration (CXI) program that is being beta tested with a handful of integrators across the country.
Among other things, in the CXI program integrators are being given remote access to Comcast’s new X1 set-top boxes and a dedicated toll-free number (not yet available) that allows them to schedule a Comcast technician for a jobsite.
“Xfinity works well in the home. We needed to eliminate the disconnect between Comcast and custom integrators,” says Cherie Cremer, vice president, planning and operations, Comcast Cable. “In the current situation, the customer is losing. But at the end of the day, the customer will be the big winner [from CXI].”
And with Comcast, that means there are a lot of potential big winners. The cable giant has about 25 million household customers using at least one of its services.
Comcast started the beta program quietly last fall with a discreet presence at the CEDIA Expo in Denver. At the Home Technology Specialists of America (HTSA) Spring Conference last week in Scottsdale, the entire team was there talking to potential dealers/partners.
Cremer said it would “not be fair to speculate” when the program might exit beta testing, or if it ever would, noting she did not want to set unmanageable expectations and did not want to “over-promise.”
But the basics of the program certainly seem promising for both dealers and Comcast. No longer will an integrator’s technicians have to wait outside a client’s home for the cable installer to show up within an allotted service window.
No longer will an integrator simply have to stand by watching a cable technician install a set-top box in a client’s home and then immediately have to disconnect it so it can be integrated with a fully networked system.
No longer will an integrator covet the cell phone number of his favorite responsive local Comcast technician only to be frustrated when that guy eventually leaves the cable company. And, lastly and perhaps most importantly, no longer will an integrator have to roll a truck to a client’s home to simply reboot the cable box.
“When we pick up that phone, we will know who they are and they will know who we are,” says Neal Roberts, manager of technology and product at Comcast Labs. Roberts is a former custom integrator installer himself, so he knows the frustration that integrators go through not having a direct pipeline to be able to get things done at the cable company on behalf of their clients.
“Once they are labeled as an CXI partner, integrators will be able to act on behalf of of their customer or with the customer as part of the XCI program,” he says. “They will also have in-roads to documentation and remote control codes. as well as a path to set up modems, set-top boxes and schedule service calls.”
Requirements to Become an CXI Partner
To become an CXI partner, it’s pretty simple. You only need to be an integrator that has a Comcast client. Dealers will be required to sign a 20-page contract covering all the legal mumbo-jumbo, but in terms of other requirements, there aren’t any.
At the same time, Comcast has also launched Xfinity University in which custom installers get a chance to sit down with Comcast technicians and go over the current product lines, the delivery options (MoCA, Ethernet, wireless, etc.) and all the diagnostic screens for the X1 set-top box.
So far, Comcast has held two Xfinity University courses—one in Philadelphia (where Comcast is headquartered) and one in San Francisco. Others are planned throughout the year. While attendance at Xfinity U. is not required for CXI, it might be a good idea. Neither Cremer nor Roberts would say there is a target number of integrators to get into the program.
Roberts says Comcast is also up to speed on the third-party home automation drivers on the market that can control the X1.
The CXI program is not an attempt to push the Xfinity Home Security and home automation line through integrators, Roberts says, adding that if dealers want to learn about that product line, Comcast will oblige.
One thing for certain that the CXI program is not is a referral program. Comcast will not be referring customers to dealers.
HTSA and CE Pro 100 member David Wexler of The Little Guys in Chicago has lots of Comcast customers and is excited about the prospects of the partnership for his customers. Wexler carries Comcast set-top boxes in his retail store (not the X1 interactive products, however).
“We don’t make much money on them, but we offer them as a service to our clients,” Wexler says. “We sell them, but don’t install them. We have to instruct the client what to say when they call Comcast to set up an appointment for installation. If we can get access to the X1s and do remote reboots, that would be huge for us in reducing our service calls. We are never going to make more money working with Comcast, but this will definitely save service time.”
HTSA managing director Bob Hana was cautiously optimistic about the project and excited that Comcast chose the buying group’s members as its first open outreach.
“What we are working with them on is, really, acknowledging the obvious which is that as Comcast goes upstream to work in higher value homes,” says Hana. “They are running into complications that they don’t have much field experience dealing with. For integrators the frustration with the cable guy is that after they have designed a beautiful complete system, the cable guy comes in and [changes it] because his job is just to get the set-top box installed and get an image on the TV. He is not worried about the fact that it is connected to just about everything else in the network. That conflict has been going on for many years.”
He continues, “Our conversations with Comcast go back six months where both sides just said, ‘Let’s start talking.’ They are very interested because they have long-term plans for the connected home. Having that kind of synergy, understanding and cooperation with them only helps satisfying the same customer.”
Hana suspects that Comcast could someday unveil an authorized dealer network, but is quick to point out that is his own speculation.
“I suspect, and I am not really privy to their long-term plans, that if they want to get into more high-end business, it only behooves them to iron out some sort of the business model using HTSA members as extensions of their service,” Hana surmises. “It will ultimately be their call.”
Integrators with long memories will recall that Verizon tried to introduce an authorized dealer network some years ago based on MoCA but it never had legs.
Meanwhile, the next generation of the X1 set-top box is loaded with new features and an on-screen interface that mimics the same screen for tablets, smartphones and its home automation system. The unit now draws its Guide from the cloud for instant updates with better graphics, instant access to electronic sell-through and social media commentary.
While it is unknown whether or not this beta program will ultimately be sustained, the commitment from the Comcast team is there today. In September, Comcast will have a larger presence on the exhibit floor at the CEDIA Expo.
“We need to do the right thing for the CEDIA space,” says Roberts. “It is critical that this program goes well.”
Hana adds, “It is disruptive, no doubt about it, but it doesn’t appear to be so disruptive that anybody is going to lose business over this.”
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Jason Knott is Chief Content Officer for Emerald Expositions Connected Brands. Jason has covered low-voltage electronics as an editor since 1990, serving as editor and publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He joined CE Pro in 2000 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of that brand. He served as chairman of the Security Industry Association’s Education Committee from 2000-2004 and sat on the board of that association from 1998-2002. He is also a former board member of the Alarm Industry Research and Educational Foundation. He has been a member of the CEDIA Business Working Group since 2010. Jason graduated from the University of Southern California. Have a suggestion or a topic you want to read more about? Email Jason at firstname.lastname@example.org
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