Comcast To Battle Cord Cutting By… Reinventing The Closed Cable Box

from the round-and-round-we-go dept

Like many cable operators, Comcast continues to slowly bleed cable TV customers to cheaper, more flexible streaming alternatives (aka cord cutting). The industry just saw its biggest ever quarterly loss of such subscribers in history, with Comcast losing 106,000 subscribers during the third quarter alone. It’s a trend that’s directly thanks to the industry’s refusal to not only compete on price, but flexibility and openness.

You’ll recall that Comcast (with the US Copyright Office’s help) played a starring role in killing plans at the FCC to bring more competition and openness to the cable box. The cable industry hauls in $21 billion in cable box rental fees annually, so their motivation here should be obvious. The combination of limited cable box competition and the walled-garden approach to content also lets these companies keep would-be competitors at arms’ length, helping to “protect” existing customers from the temptation of cheaper, more flexible programming options.

Realizing the company had to do something to address the rising streaming threat, Comcast has been doing things like adding Netflix to some cable boxes in the hopes that would keep its existing customers from cutting the cord. And, in last week’s news, it emerged that Comcast would soon be launching a new streaming device for its broadband customers that actually lets users view not only Comcast’s cable TV content, but that of some competitors. Again, the hope is that adding a few additional options will prevent users from fleeing to alternative options.

Of course this being Comcast, you won’t actually be able to install whatever you like on it, just like a… cable box:

“The product isn?t quite a direct competitor to Roku or Apple TV because it won?t allow customers access to hundreds of apps, including streaming TV bundles like AT&T?s DirecTV Now or Dish?s Sling. Those services are direct competitors to Comcast?s video bundle, and Comcast wouldn?t be able to push its own video service to its broadband-only customers if it allowed them access to those bundled OTT services. Comcast hasn?t decided the exact number of apps that will be accessible through the device, said the people.”

Comcast doesn’t appear to have gotten the message that openness is the future. Streaming services now operate on an ocean of third-party hardware that (with some caveats like piracy) largely allows users to install whatever app or service they’d like. That’s even more true of custom-built media center PCs. It looks like Comcast is attempting to justify the closed-nature of the device by throwing in some additional internet of things functionality (read: “we had to lock this device down for security purposes”):

“Rather, Comcast wants the device to be the hub to the connected home, they said. In addition to aggregating streaming apps, the device will also allow customers to control anything that?s connected to the Internet, including thermostats and smart-locks.”

Still, a walled garden by any other name…

Granted this being Comcast, there’s sure to be some additional caveats (like price or rental fees) at launch. Given Comcast’s past actions on this front, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Comcast exempt owners of its own hardware from broadband usage caps given the death of net neutrality rules.

Of course that brings us to Comcast’s ace in the hole when it comes to battling cord cutting: limited broadband competition. Limited competition means bullshit usage caps and overage fees can be imposed on user lines without them being able to vote with their wallet. Such caps and fees not only let Comcast counter lost TV revenues with broadband price hikes, but simultaneously punish and profit from users who wander too far off-script to enjoy “non-sanctioned”competing products while using a Comcast broadband connection.

Between locked down hardware and the death of net neutrality, it’s a good bet Comcast is hoping it won’t have to compete quite as intensely on openness, flexibility, and price as the streaming wars truly accelerate.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Comcast To Battle Cord Cutting By… Reinventing The Closed Cable Box”

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Michael (profile) says:

Re: Re: I see no problem letting comcast assume control of my home

Not a chance.

From Comcast, you will have to buy a bundle of front door opening, back door opening, windows, garage, doggie door, birdhouse doors and windows, opening of all closets, sports lockers, root cellars, barns, and sheds.

If you do not happen to have all of those, too bad, you still have to pay for the entire bundle. Bundles are what customers want.

datadatadatadata (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I see no problem letting comcast assume control of my home

You aren’t even scratching the surface of the potential revenue opportunities here!

All customers have a revocable, non-exclusive, non-transferable license to use all windows and doors for both ingress and egress for a low convenience fee of $5 per passage, and if you sign up for over a year you get 2 passes on us!

You can buy the base ‘Access Plus’ package for unlimited* egress and ingress from your front and backdoors! This package reduces the convenience fee to $1 per passage allowing you to go in and out as much as you want! The plus package also includes free emergency egress from one designated window of your choice!

There are also some convenient addons!

You can buy the side door package if you want to add unlimited* side door access to your home.

The doggie door addon allows you unlimited* passages through a pet sized door and allows you to add pets to your household! (requires side door package for each doggie door package)

*Household members only; members must have Xfinity Mobile enabled to activate free passages; usage over the standard rate of 6 passages per day is throttled to one passage per hour.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I see no problem letting comcast assume control of my home

You left out the usage caps in the unlimited bundle, oh, and the throttled bandwidth. When you go over your usage caps the price per egress goes up, not exponentially but astronomically. And the throttle, if someone is trying to use the back door at the same time someone is using the front door, one or both would have a half hour delay.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I see no problem letting comcast assume control of my home

Those are just the above the line fees. Once you have signed a 2 year contract you will find that there is an additional flow fee (for passage of water in and out), combustible fee (for passage of natural gas), and a conduction fee (for electricity). Also in 6 months you will find that the quoted prices were an introductory rate and your bill doubles for the remaining 18 months of the contract.

Anonymous Coward says:

Move along, nothing to see here.

When all these mega content delivery vehicles finally go bankrupt, maybe the idea will sink in that many of us won’t pay these highway robbery fees.

Just because your an ISP too does not mean broadband will tote the whole cost these major corporations watching long term contracts with sports eat their lunch.

Your greed, your problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

"cable trimming"

“cable trimming” not “cable cutting” because you’re still paying the same cable company/ISP in order to download (torrent) or stream (fire stick) the shows.
Up next, cable companies will offer a-la-carte programming packages as tv continues to be an on demand service.

A la carte, on demand, pay-per-view, cable trimming…it’s all the same if the monthly bill doesn’t decrease, because of a lack of local cable company/ISP competition.

DannyB (profile) says:

Oh good! That's just what I've been waiting for!

Dear Comcast,

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

That is just what I’ve been wanting! This is just the thing that will make me want to come back to cable tv again!

A closed cable tv box is my dream come true.

With a closed cable tv box I would be so happy that I could overlook minor things like:

* reality tv
* reruns or reruns
* marathons of reruns
* programs with more ads than content
* ads that are obnoxiously loud
* after a long string of ads, the program content is then obscured by characters and animations that walk out on the screen covering the content — sometimes even items that are critical to the plot of the story
* inability to record some programs
* being tied to a schedule
* high prices
* sudden rapid price increases
* regular high price increases
* award winning service — for being the worst and most hated company ever!
* inability to cancel my account, ever
* technicians who strive for the corporate goal of technical incompetence

Thanks to your closed tv box, I am signing up. Enclosed is a blank check. Please fill in the amount and activate my service anytime within the next 24 months!

Again, thanks!

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Cable box or Internet Router

Is it possible that Comcast is more confused than we think they are? I mean, cable box gives you access to…well…cable. An Internet router gives you access to the Internet. The streaming stuff they are talking about is on the Internet, not on cable. Is this new design both a cable box and a router?

I think any cost conscious consumer would understand that if they get the cable box in order to stream Internet content, they will need to keep paying for cable and that would abrogate the whole cutting cable (and the expense) thingy.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Cable box or Internet Router

It does at my house. In fact I have two routers between my lan and the Internet, the inner one controls my VPN and the outer one (ISP provided) connects to the Internet. I still pay for cable because it is cheaper than Internet alone, the cable box is, however, stored in a box someplace, unused. Maybe the provider here works differently than yours.

For that matter, there were routers in the last two places I lived.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Cable box or Internet Router

Up here in Canada at least one of the broadcasters has changed their lingo to say a tv show is streaming as in “blah blah show’s new episode streaming this tuesday at 9pm”

Now maybe it is available as a broadcast and a on a stream some where at that time, but I find it annoying as hell.

Anonymous Coward says:

Missing the point entirely

Comcast can put all the 3rd party channels on their boxes they like and it will make no difference. They seem to be missing the point of cord cutting and are “innovating” in the wrong direction.

Most people “cut the cord” to save money and only pay for what they want to watch. It’s not about selection or variety. Hell, most of their customers also already pay for internet service and probably decided to cut the cord after realizing that they spend much more time watching Netflix, Hulu or Amazon than they do preprogrammed cable offerings and decided it wasn’t worth the extra cost any more.

Cable operators’ won’t even be able to compete on price any more.
Their only option is to offer that same content via one of the streaming providers. Of course this means that the cable operators themselves will go broke as very little of that content is their own; They just resell others’ content. We can only hope that the fracturing of the media offerings eventually coalesces around a handful of major streaming providers rather than hundreds of individual studio-run streaming sites.

Anonymous Coward says:

Just wait for the pixelated video revolution

Granted this being Comcast, there’s sure to be some additional caveats (like price or rental fees) at launch. Given Comcast’s past actions on this front, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Comcast exempt owners of its own hardware from broadband usage caps given the death of net neutrality rules.

This. I fully expect Comcast to not only exempt their streaming box from caps, but I also expect them to take a mobile "unlimited" view of video and cap all video streamed to non-authorized devices at 480p unless you pay an unlimited video fee.

Anonymous Coward says:

After I Switched to Sling, Spectrum started sending me mailers for their new streaming tv service for $22 a month.
Not too many channels (and why do I still have to pay for sports programming when I don’t watch it?), not nearly as many as Sling. But you didn’t need to use their cable box, Ruku and PC apps for streaming. The one interesting thing that it has that sling does not, all the local channels.

frank says:

Comcast Cool-aide

You all must be comcast employees or have been drinking the comcast cool-aide too long. There are many options out in the market for home security systems. Many of these have existed even before comcast was in business. Today, you can purchase your own security system and attach that the a phone app to your personal cell phone.

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