When it comes to wheeling and dealing, most of the waves Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has been making lately are on the entertainment side of the business. The integrated communications, cable, and entertainment conglomerate purchased European peer Sky for $40 billion in late 2018 and is doubling its investment in original TV programming through that unit. Comcast also recently inked a deal with rival Disney, allowing Mickey and company to assume full control of TV streaming service Hulu. Comcast instead has its sights set on launching its own streaming service through NBCUniversal sometime in 2020.
While the film and TV properties get all of the attention, though, Comcast's Cable Communications segment is getting the red-headed-stepchild treatment. Granted, cable and internet service providers get a lot of flak (and rightfully so) from frustrated consumers, and Comcast's Xfinity is no exception. But no matter your personal feelings on Comcast's Xfinity, the business is providing solid returns to shareholders. It also could be getting a new connected home-health service, putting Comcast in position to competitively participate in the tech wars that are forming battle lines over the smart home.
Great, another smart speaker option
As CNBC reported in May, Comcast is working on an in-home health detection device that will start testing later this year and have a broader rollout in 2020. However, this is not an entry into the crowded smart speaker industry dominated by Amazon.com's Echo and Alphabet's Google Home. Instead of a voice-operated assistant and smart home hub, Comcast is looking to position sensors around the home that will serve as a detection service for those with health risks, seniors and people with disabilities living independently at home. Developers of the service say the sensors will be geared to detect falls, monitoring the frequency of trips to the bathroom, track the amount of time spent in bed, and have the ability to call 911.
Details on the service -- including pricing -- have yet to be released, but Comcast is apparently in talks with insurance companies and healthcare providers to work out realized cost-savings sharing agreements when the device does its job. Home health would be a new frontier for Xfinity, but marketing the service may not take much extra effort since the company already has a portfolio of home security devices and services -- not to mention the phone, cable TV, and internet business. With an aging U.S. population, home health could be a sweetener for a segment that's already performing consistently well.
Why home health could be Comcast's niche to win
Meanwhile, tech companies with smart home aspirations are slugging it out with smart speakers -- complete with centralized smart device control, entertainment features, and other assistive commands aimed at day-to-day life. Health monitoring has been left to smartwatch makers such as Apple and Fitbit, but smartwatches still have the lowest adoption rates among those over age 55. However, according to eMarketer, the older generations are starting to catch on and are now the fastest-growing segment for smartwatch sales.
Still, according to eMarketer, just over 8 million Americans over age 55 will own a smartwatch in 2019. That's a small percentage of the nearly 100 million who are over age 55 right now. Thus, Comcast could have a shot at dominating a niche within the connected healthcare industry if it can get its device and related service to market.
The cross-selling and added revenue opportunity could be substantial. Xfinity had 28.4 million residential customers at the end of the first quarter, with 1.3 million of those subscribing to Xfinity security and automation services. The segment overall grew revenue 4% year over year, but the "other" line item that is mostly made up of home security grew 7% during the first quarter. It's a small piece of the whole, but it's been contributing to slow and steady growth for some time. Home health could be a new addition that keeps that trend rolling for Comcast shareholders.