PhillyDeals: Colleges cut Comcast deal for TV through cloud

As if college weren't distracting enough - beer, music, job anxiety, coeducation - Drexel University, the University of Delaware, and a handful of New England colleges have cut deals with Comcast Corp. to let dorm-living students watch TV, sports, and movies on their smartphones, laptops, iPads or Android tablets, through its cloud-based Xfinity On Campus service, wherever they go.

This is not about education: "It's the lifestyle," John Bielec, chief information officer at Drexel, told me. "And Drexel has a very robust wireless infrastructure that is ideal for delivering this content."

Everybody happy?

"There have been professors complaining about students not paying attention in class because they're browsing," Bielec said. "But it's a fact of life. You can't control that."

This should end struggles for the dorm-room remote, at least.

"It's been great. Each roommate can have her laptop plugged in - you can see the Phillies game, I can watch Jeopardy! They don't have Netflix, but they do have movies On Demand," said Elizabeth Gilligan, a fashion design student at Drexel, which added the service for 4,500 on-campus undergrads this summer.

"Or I can be in the studio, and have two browsers open, and be working on one screen and watch something on the other," Gilligan told me.

Working, really? "Maybe it's not the best way to work," she said, laughing.

At Delaware, my son Carl started getting cable-TV for the first time in his life when he moved into his dorm on Saturday. Comcast can now beam into his new laptop, or the smartphone he bought with his paycheck from selling computers at Office Depot.

This is a lifestyle change: We don't get cable at the house. For a rare, must-see game, I have found it cheaper to send the boys to the big screen at our neighborhood diner, or the bar. I canceled Netflix when our statements showed some of Carl's brothers were idiot-boxing when their grades showed they should have been jamming on Stat 101. Let them pay for their own distractions. Now Delaware and Comcast have made an end-run around us.

Comcast is doing this to stay relevant as stand-alone TV fades. With the spread of handheld appliances, "kids were no longer bringing TVs to campus," Marcien Jenckes, executive vice president for consumer services at Comcast, told me. Many instead streamed "pirated content" to their smartphones, laptops, tablets.

So Comcast tested a WiFi-based video system at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and expanded it to Emerson College last year. More than 80 percent of Emerson dorm-dwellers signed up for the second year of the program. More than half of eligible Drexel kids are already on board. It's becoming Comcast's basic college service, Jenckes said.

"It allows us to expose our next generation of products and services to our next generation of customers," he told me. "Television used to be something you hung on the wall. Now you carry it in your pocket."