Comcast, the nation's largest cable company, is giving its customers the option to cut the cord.
The company said Monday that it is beta-testing a video streaming service for its Xfinity Internet customers that will offer a pared-down package of TV channels, including HBO, for $15 a month.
The pilot program, called Stream, is expected to launch later this summer in Boston, where Comcast customers enjoy some of the fastest Internet service speeds in the nation. After that, Comcast is set to roll out the new product in Chicago, Seattle and, later, other Comcast markets.
Comcast becomes the latest established media company to embrace Internet delivery of video as more consumers consider cutting the cable cord.
HBO, CBS, Sony, Dish Network and Verizon earlier this year launched streaming services in an attempt to adapt to new technology and seismic shifts in consumer behavior.
"This is an acknowledgment that the marketplace is changing and providers have to evolve along with the marketplace," Michael Goodman, director of digital media of Strategy Analytics, said in an interview. "You have to evolve and survive or try to maintain the status quo and fade into history."
The move is groundbreaking for Comcast because its bread-and-butter business has long been piping pricey packages of cable TV channels into millions of homes.
"With Stream, Xfinity Internet customers can watch live TV from about a dozen networks -- including all the major broadcast nets and HBO -- on laptops, tablets and phones in their home," Matt Strauss, general manager of video services for Comcast TV, wrote in an announcement on Comcast's corporate blog.
The channels can be watched through an app installed on their personal computers, smartphones and tablets without a cable subscription. The service will also offer on-demand movies and have DVR capabilities.
The move underscores how Internet service has usurped traditional cable TV packages as Comcast's fastest-growing and most important service. Comcast's strength continues to be its vast network of fiber lines, but it now has more Internet service customers -- more than 22 million -- than those who subscribe to cable TV channels.
The streaming service helps Comcast hedge its bets.
A Comcast spokeswoman said the company had no plans to offer the service nationwide, enabling customers who do not live in Comcast markets -- such as Los Angeles -- the option of subscribing. The streaming service is offered as an add-on to Comcast Internet service.
But a nationwide offering could eventually happen, Goodman said.
"That would be where it would really start to get interesting," he said. "In the past you had to own the plant to be a video distributor -- but that is no longer the case. As soon as all of these companies start going over-the-top [of the cable box] with video services, those traditional geographical boundaries just drop away."
The streaming service is seen as an acknowledgment of the greater control that viewers have over how they consume their TV content. Comcast and other cable companies have been offering smaller and less expensive packages of channels to compete with Netflix as more younger consumers seek out their favorite programming through Internet streaming.