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OPLIN 4cast #475: Cable in the future

Posted in 4cast

coaxial cableIt would have been hard to miss the news last week about the FCC’s “war” against the cable TV industry. Most articles highlighted the FCC’s frustration with the high rental fees for cable set-top boxes, but there is another aspect of this story; as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said on Re/Code, “…an overwhelming majority of consumers lease a box from their pay-TV service that doesn’t interface well with the wealth of video content online.” So this is also about bridging the gap between cable and Internet video, and that has some far-reaching implications. Certainly the FCC proposal would drive innovation and make the Internet even more of a video medium than it already is, but what other side effects might there be? Would it be good or bad for minorities, for example?

  • Inside the FCC’s audacious plan to blow up the cable box (The Verge | Nilay Patel)  “…the critical disagreement is how to speed up the rate of innovation in TV hardware and interface innovation. The FCC thinks the best way to do that is to let any company build a front-end interface to cable TV and create a competitive market for cable TV hardware and software, while the cable companies say that they’re already facing a ton of competition from streaming apps like Netflix and Hulu, and they have lots of market-based incentives to get rid of cable boxes and move to an app-based model that makes their services better and faster. The FCC is saying it wants anybody to be able to make a cable box. The cable industry is almost saying it just wants to kill the cable box altogether and move to apps. Both of these answers are probably right! That’s what’s going to make this so complicated.”
  • FCC’s new plan for set top boxes could blow the cable market wide open (Forbes | Rob Salkowitz)  “But cable companies’ dominion over the set-top box is more than just a cash cow. It gives them control over the interface between viewers and the programming. That lets them lock up the signal with proprietary standards that make customization and interoperability with other devices difficult or impossible. It also gives cable companies sole access to the invaluable data generated by set-top boxes: what people are watching, how often they change channels, pay-per-view metrics and even information about what they record and when they play it back.”
  • What if your Apple TV was your cable box? The FCC wants you to have that choice (Digital Trends | Kyle Wiggers)  “The new rules face opposition from lawmakers, too. In a letter to the FCC in December, more than two dozen members of the Congressional Black Caucus argued that an open set-top system could disproportionately affect programming and raise costs for consumers. Specifically, wrote Representative Yvette D. Clarke, the proposal would force users to buy expensive new hardware that wouldn’t necessarily be subject to the same regulations [including] privacy and emergency alert regulation, as pay-TV hardware.”
  • Here’s why cheaper set-top boxes are vital for minority communities (Motherboard | Nicholas Deleon)  “In Nogales’ view [president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition], making set-top boxes more affordable would not only lead to a proliferation of Latino-oriented television programming, but would in turn lead to a greater understanding of Latino culture among non-Latinos.… As an example, he cited the lack of television channels aimed at Latinos whose primary language is English. ‘There’s Fusion [a joint venture between Univision and ABC] and that’s it,’ he said, noting that a significant percentage of Latinos in the US don’t speak Spanish at all.”

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