Students to use new TV streaming service this fall

Media Credit: Connor Witschonke | Staff Photographer

Officials will not renew the University's contract with Philo Edu after it expires this academic year.

Officials have inked a deal with Comcast to use Xfinity On Campus, the company’s authenticated streaming service, for the next three years.

After the University’s three-year contract with Philo Edu ends this academic year, administrators said students next fall will use Xfinity On Campus to stream live TV and record and download shows for viewing later. In addition to more than 60 channels and more than 55 video-on-demand applications like HBO Go and AMC, students can customize the new service by opting into additional “premium” and international channels for an additional cost, officials said.

“For GW students living on our campuses, it’s important that we look at the total student experience, including television and Internet services, that provide powerful viewing, gaming and streaming capabilities for students to enjoy during their time outside of the classroom,” Chief Information Officer Loretta Early said in an email.

Philo Edu, which partnered with the University in 2016, provided students who live on campus with free access to live television streaming and recording while connected to the University’s Wi-Fi network on laptops, mobile phones and Roku smart TVs. Like Philo, Xfinity’s streaming service will work with those three types of devices, but it will also allow students to download episodes to view without Wi-Fi.

Xfinity On Campus includes access to more than 100 live channels, according to the Xfinity website. Philo Edu currently includes 127 live channels for GW students.

Under the new plan, students can store up to 20 hours of recorded shows. Previously, students were guaranteed 20 hours of recording space on Philo but could record additional shows if space allowed, according to Philo’s website.

Early said officials in the Division of Information Technology will transition to the new Internet Protocol TV service, which students will use for at least three years, over the summer.

Officials solicited feedback from students, faculty and staff about the switch to a new streaming service through a survey sent out to the GW community in February. The survey gauged satisfaction with Philo and offered respondents a chance to name features they would like to see added to Philo or another IPTV service in the future.

Early said administrators also gathered feedback on Philo from Student Association and Residence Hall Association representatives this semester. She said students voiced concerns about Philo’s confusing interface and streaming quality.

“Student feedback was instrumental in every step of the decision-making process,” Early said. “We wanted to ensure that whatever provider was selected would not only be able to provide quality service, but also address student needs and preferences.”

Students who attended the feedback sessions said the change is a step in the right direction.

Tyler Kusma, a resident adviser in West Hall, said members of the IT division reached out to him to gather feedback about switching to a new IPTV service because RAs often host events using Philo, like watch parties for TV show premieres and sporting events.

Kusma said many residents have complained to him about Philo’s requirement that students connect to a Wi-Fi network to watch shows because of brief yet persistent connectivity issues with GW’s wireless networks, which hinder the service’s accessibility.

With Xfinity On Campus, students will be able to download shows for offline viewing, according to the Xfinity website. Xfinity will also provide access to more than 100 TV Everywhere streaming apps, like AMC and WatchESPN, which provide students with more TV channels and can be accessed off campus, officials said.

Kusma said the TV Everywhere apps are a “significant bonus” because they allow students to browse content with fewer location and accessibility restrictions.

But he added that some students, himself included, already have access to these features through their families’ subscriptions to Comcast’s services.

“GW needs to be clear about an answer for students, because if I already have Xfinity through my family, what is the advantage?” Kusma said.

He added that he was “glad” the new service allows students to access HBO Go like Philo did because students felt “very passionately” about being able to watch popular HBO shows like “Game of Thrones.”

“HBO watch parties are very popular for resident advisers, because TV is an incredible community building tool,” he said. “The first week I was here, my entire hall did a ‘Game of Thrones’ watch party, which was really well-attended.”

RHA President Trinity Diaz said IT officials met with leaders of the organization to garner additional feedback about the streaming service on Feb. 26.

Diaz said RHA leaders told IT officials at the meeting that they disliked that Philo is incompatible with most smart TVs, like Apple TVs and Fire TV.

“The major thing was students wanted it to be more adaptable,” Diaz said. “Right now, it works only with a Roku, but they wanted something that you could use with any other sort of smart TV or device, so that way it could be more universal.”

Like Philo, Xfinity On Campus is compatible only with Roku-branded smart TVs, according to the Xfinity website.

Diaz added that in addition to service improvements, officials should better publicize the service. She said many students living on campus that she has spoken to do not know the University offers an IPTV service.

“Another thing that they wanted was just more transparency about the service,” Diaz said. “Apparently a lot of freshmen – I remember someone from West Hall – said that they didn’t know that Philo was available.”

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