Comcast Box

Big Cable Sees Self as Lesser of Two Evils in Set Top Box Fight

As the FCC prepares to open up the cable set-top box to the masses, the TV industry is pulling out all the stops to try and thwart the effort. One of their tried and true tactics is to try and scare consumers with another boogeyman. In this case, they warn that third-party set top boxes would simply shift the power from the perennially unpopular TV companies to tech firms like Apple and Google who could prove even more worrisome for consumers.

What it all comes down to is how consumers pay for the content that they watch. Currently cord-cutting requires jumping through hoops, or simply doing without. Third party set-top boxes open the door for OTT services to stand alone with much less hassle, or to co-exist with traditional pay-TV subscriptions.  The TV providers are perennially unpopular because their monopoly-like power allows them to push consumers around with little incentive to improve a poor record on customer service.

The reasons for the cable companies’ bad behavior are simple. They want to make it more difficult to cut the cord, and offset lost revenue from those who already have. They want to keep their customers within their own services and make more money off of them. Isn’t that what every business wants? So the TV industry certainly raises a valid point in suggesting that the tech giants could do the same.

Apple and Google have both been known to make life difficult for their users who seek to use competitors’ services with their hardware, or vice versa. On a Google-made set-top box, it’s likely that users wouldn’t have an easy time accessing content from rivals like Apple and Microsoft, or quite frankly, anyone that isn’t Google or doesn’t have a cozy relationship with them. Ditto for Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, et al.

Sure, apps currently exist for Netflix, Hulu, and others on all of these companies’ platforms, but the value proposition of third-party set-top boxes is the ability to bring content out of siloed apps and into a unified TV experience. Having content distributors also playing the role of gatekeepers to that experience is obviously fraught with conflicts of interest.

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