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Netflix gets own channel on cable

Service available on subscribers’ TVs

Netflix has reached an agreement with three smaller cable companies that, for the first time, will let U.S. subscribers watch the streaming video service’s content as though it were an ordinary cable channel.

The deal will add Netflix as an app to certain set-top boxes nationwide on RCN, Grande Communications and Atlantic Broadband. It will give subscribers of those companies the ability to watch Netflix content they would otherwise be able to get only on their PCs, tablets and phones, or with a third-party set-top box.

Altogether, the agreement covers as many as 500,000 of the cable firms’ existing subscribers – though that figure could grow as more customers sign up.

To get the service when it launches today, a customer must simultaneously subscribe to one of the three cable companies as well as Netflix. The technology also requires a TiVo set-top box provided by the cable companies.

The agreement follows experiments by Netflix with pay-TV providers in Denmark, Sweden and Britain. Analysts said the move reflects Netflix’s broader ambitions to compete with the likes of cable-only services such as HBO.

“The entire cable television market is in the process of reinventing itself,” said Jeff Kagan, an independent telecom analyst. “Watching television on TV used to be the entire pie. Now it’s just one slice of it.”

In order to make the deal possible, Netflix said it had to negotiate with some of its content partners to allow streaming on cable boxes.

“We’re making Netflix a channel on our lineup and in our channel guides,” said David Isenberg, chief marketing officer for Atlantic Broadband. “Literally, watching Netflix is as easy as changing the channel.”

Watching Netflix typically requires using a separate retail set-top box (such as a Blu-ray DVD player or another internet-enabled device). But the deal, which was years in the making, said RCN chief executive Jim Holanda, allows Netflix subscribers to watch streaming video without switching devices and remotes.

Netflix’s agreement with RCN, Grande and Atlantic comes weeks after the streaming video service struck a controversial financial agreement with Comcast to ensure a smooth experience for consumers.

The two deals, however, are distinct; whereas Netflix is paying Comcast to improve customers’ download speeds and viewing experience, Netflix is still unavailable from Comcast’s own cable box.

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