What will replace the cable box: a better box or no box at all?

Some cable companies, such as Comcast, are trying to reinvent the cable box. But others, such as Charter and Time Warner, say it's okay if the cable box dies – they have other plans.

Jeff Fusco/AP
The Comcast Xfinity X1 system, a reimagined cable box that combines live TV and Internet content, is demoed at Comcast Labs in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on October 19, 2015.

The cable box, a crucial part of home theaters for decades, might be on the way out. Casual TV watchers say it’s easier to find something to watch through online services such as Netflix and Hulu than it is to flip through hundreds of channels in hopes of finding something interesting. Other viewers complain that the boxes are poorly programmed and difficult to use. Even Congress doesn’t particularly like the cable box: Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) recently decried the high cost most customers pay to rent one from their provider. 

Cable companies are of two minds about this trend. Some, such as Comcast, are trying to find ways to make cable boxes better. Instead of ugly units with clumsy remote controls, they’re scrambling to produce sleeker boxes loaded with software that makes it easier to get straight to TV shows and movies.

Comcast is pouring resources into its X1 DVR platform, which presents content in a Netflix-like grid interface, combining Internet content with live TV and saving users from having to flip through channels. The X1 is powered by a remote control that works without needing an unobstructed line-of-sight to the cable box itself, and Comcast has also developed an iOS app that can control the box.

Other cable companies are embracing a future without cable boxes. “Where we’re headed is the ability of customers to access the complete video product without having to rent a set-top box from us,” Time Warner Cable CEO Rob Marcus said during a financial call on October 29.

The company is going to use New York City as a test bed for a streaming-only cable TV service delivered via customers’ Internet connections, rather than their cable boxes. Customers would be able to add and drop services online, rather than having to have a technician come out to hook up their cable. Cable company Charter already offers a streaming-only plan for $13, which includes the major networks and HBO or Showtime.

The shift from hardware cable boxes to over-the-top streaming services may be convenient for consumers, but it may also raise "Net Neutrality" concerns, depending on how cable companies implement their plans. The Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet rules, passed earlier this year, say that service providers must treat all traffic equally – so a cable company couldn’t favor its own streaming service over, say, Netflix by delivering data more quickly or by exempting its own service from data caps. If Time Warner’s, Charter’s, or Comcast’s streaming service is delivered over the same wires as the public Internet, the companies must treat those services equally to all other traffic.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to What will replace the cable box: a better box or no box at all?
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today