Last June, Big Cable made an appealing offer for viewers and regulators. Companies would provide consumers with free apps to watch TV rather than making them pay monthly fees for cable boxes. But the cable companies didn’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts — they wanted to stop the Federal Communication Commission from passing regulations making them ship apps.
A year after that“Ditch the Box” pledge, two things have changed. There’s now zero threat of federal regulators requiring cable operators to give subscribers free apps to replace rented boxes, and the industry’s“Ditch the Box” plan seems to have disappeared.
What was on the table
Twelve months ago, cable operators had reason to fear that the FCC would crack open the box market.
Those rectangular devices that sit under your TV set compound your cable bill — typically $10 a month for a tuner or $20 a month for a digital video recorder. But that extra fee often buys you a clunky, low-resolution onscreen interface that can’t show more than few channels worth of program listings.
The FCC’s original“Unlock the Box” proposal would have compelled cable and satellite operators to provide some standard framework upon which outside manufacturers and developers could ship their own hardware and software to receive and record a pay-TV feed.
Ditch The Box, as advocated by a cable-led group called theFuture of Television Coalition, would have liberated cable and satellite subscribers from many of those those hardware fees by letting them use free, web-based viewing apps on connected TVs andstreaming-media players.
The deal did not cover digital video recorders, and satellite viewers would still need one rented box to get the signal from space and then distribute it through the home.
But it would have happened fast, asan outline of the plan touted: “Providers will have two years to fully implement the new requirements – and many are already racing to do so sooner.”
Comcast didn’t say how many subscribers had signed up for this, or when it might ship an equivalent app for other platforms. But at least it’s trying.
AT&T (T), the other TV giant toendorse Ditch the Box before the FCC, has done much less. ItsU-verse andDirecTV apps don’t let you stream to your TV via Google’s (GOOG, GOOGL) Chromecast or Apple’s (AAPL) Airplay, so you still need a traditional cable box.
That’s the case with most other pay-TV providers, including Yahoo Finance’s parent company Verizon (VZ).
The Future of TV Coalition has gone silent — itlast tweeted Nov. 28 — the cable industry’s trade groupNCTA hasn’t had much to say about it either.
NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz wrote in an e-mail that Ditch the Box was pitched as “an “alternative” to the Wheeler’s original proposal. Without the FCC’s acceptance of Ditch the Box, that plan got ditched.
BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield offered a shorter explanation in an e-mail: “They make far too much money on boxes.”
Cord-cutting will continue
Cable subscribers, however, have their own votes to cast, and ever more of them have been voting against any kind of traditional pay-TV bundle.
But thecheaper streaming video services that many consumers have signed up as an alternative to traditional cable, like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, require their own compromises. Some services leave out channels viewers may value.
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