The FCC has been flirting with the idea of unlocking set-top boxes allowing devices from third party companies like Apple to replace cable boxes in consumer homes, but the change hasn’t happened yet.
A coalition of 30 organizations is trying to provide momentum and sent a letter to the FCC May 23rd urging the government agency to make a move so that content options could increase for subscribers and prices decrease.
The coalition letter addresses that consumers should be able to purchase devices of their choosing in a competitive market that fits their content needs and pricing; benefits in their plan included lowering monthly cable bills and content that is more diverse.
According to Democratic Senators Ed Markay and Richard Blumenthal, 99 percent of cable and satellite TV customers rent set-top boxes directly from companies,” so cable companies have the opportunity to lose funds if consumers decide to part ways. What is the next step for cable to remain relevant to their customers?
Comcast speaks up
One of the big complaints with service providers is that they could have headed off regulators before the FCC wanted to mandate new set-top rules. If operators had released apps for popular retail platforms like Roku and Apple TV years ago, the government wouldn’t have the ammunition to go after them now for set-top fees.
In an answer to the app complaint and a way to keep their consumers happy, Comcast announced back in April 2016 that it has created an Xfinity TV Partner Program, and that Samsung is its launch partner. Consumers who buy a 2016 Samsung Smart TV will be able to get Comcast TV service without hooking up a set-top or paying additional fees.
Comcast also announced that it’s pairing up with Roku and a new Xfinity app will be available on Roku TV’s and streaming players so that no set-top’s will be required; a win-win scenario for cable and consumers.
Yes, if Comcast and other providers had this solution years ago they may have had more leverage to counter the bigger issue of “unlocking” the set-top box or charged more for services because of the added benefit of having streaming services and regular cable, but it could be looked at as hindsight bias.
Comcast does believe the set-top box proposal is failing on all accounts by not upholding the principles the FCC is trying to mandate. Congress was clear saying there should be competition with third party companies and MSO’s but the only groups backing the proposal are those from a video perspective.
FCC said consumers should be rid of privacy protections and legal remedies, but consumers may end up spending more in the long run. Video could then be looked at as having more power which then flips the current roles, and we are in the same position as before.
Other MSO’s feel the same as Comcast, such as Grande and RCN, who feel the competition aspect isn’t being looked at as far but in order to win you have to play the game. Grande and RCN are offering Hulu as a “channel” on leased set-tops that run TiVo’s software. MSO’s are going to continue to stay relevant to appeal to their customer’s, so competition could go from cable vs. video to video vs. video just depends on who is serving up the content and who do you want to buy?