FCC Pressure Helps Bring Netflix To Comcast Cable Boxes

from the pretending-to-be-open dept

We've long noted how Comcast is a bit of an anti-competitive jackass on both the TV and broadband fronts. When the nation's biggest cable provider isn't using usage caps to hinder streaming video competitors, it's busy finding new and creative ways to prevent paying customers from wandering too far outside of Comcast's well-cultivated walled garden. And while many global cable companies have joined the year 2016 by integrating Netflix functionality into their cable boxes for consumer benefit, Comcast has historically fought such a move, instead trying to drive consumers to its own Netflix knockoff.

But with the FCC considering new rules that would open up ye olde cable box to competition, Comcast is busy trying to portray itself as open to the changing competitive tides in the hopes of pre-empting new FCC regulations. The company this week is getting oodles of sudden praise for informing Recode that it will "allow" Netflix on to its X1 cable box:
"Said the pair in a statement: “Comcast and Netflix have reached an agreement to incorporate Netflix into X1, providing seamless access to the great content offered by both companies. We have much work to do before the service will be available to consumers later this year. We'll provide more details at that time." Sources said the deal to be on the cable giant’s set-top box would be akin to the arrangement that Netflix has cut with smaller cable operators in the United States and bigger ones across the globe.
It's kind of amazing what the faintest threat of a regulator actually doing its job can do. And while that's great that Comcast is joining the modern era by making its cable boxes actually useful, it's still a problem that Comcast can determine what consumers can and can't access via cable boxes they own and rent, which are looking more and more antiquated in the Roku and smart phone era. That's why the FCC is proposing rules that would require cable providers to simply provide existing programming to third party hardware vendors, in the hopes of creating better, cheaper set top boxes free of traditional walled gardens.

Comcast's sudden about face comes hand-in-hand with the cable industry's attempt to pre-empt FCC regulation on this front with an "app-based" plan of its own. Under the cable industry's "counter proposal" to cable box competition, cable providers would instead be able to keep the traditional cable box and walled gardens intact, provided that it offered its own cable TV lineup via an "app" for third party streaming devices. And while that sounds great on its face, this being the cable industry the plan has a number of ingrained caveats, such as the fact to use DVR recording you'd still need to rent a cable box. This is not a $21 billion annual monopoly the cable sector will give up easily.

So while it's all well and good that Comcast is being slowly forced to join the modern era, it should be clear that this is Comcast trying to forestall real, open cable platforms, not embrace them. The fact that Comcast still needs to "allow" its customers access to the most popular online service potentially ever conceived remains the real problem.

Filed Under: cable, fcc, set top boxes, television
Companies: comcast, netflix


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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 6 Jul 2016 @ 6:41am

    Or perhaps they understood that if boxes were suddenly open, people might like a box produced by Netflix.
    Native Netflix support, suggestions of shows based on content you watch, offering up all of the coolness that makes NetFlix NetFlix.

    Instead they cut a deal to bring them into the walled garden, where they think they can keep some control with their super awesome new boxes operating systems that are still decades behind most of the cool features built into other platforms like Kodi and such...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 6 Jul 2016 @ 6:54am

    Look over here, a pony! - Comcast

    Still, it's kind of surprising they allowed so much innovation to draw attention from the imminent death of their easy revenue.

    I keep telling, why sell drugs when you can be a telco?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JBDragon (profile), 6 Jul 2016 @ 7:51am

    Hey if you can keep people on your Box by allowing Netflix on it, people will end up paying the monthly box rental fee forever instead of getting a ROKU, Chromecast, AppleTV, Amazon Fire, etc. Then finding out, maybe they don't need that Comcast box. Maybe they just don't need Comcast TV service. This is really just another way to keep people locked in.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DB (profile), 6 Jul 2016 @ 8:23am

    Aaaarrrrgggg!

    This is the opposite of open and competitive!

    Instead of a open competitive market for cable boxes, Comcast is bring Netflix inside the walled garden.

    You'll still need to lease a cable box. Progress and 'competition' will still be controlled by Comcast. Innovation will remain a marketing word, rather than reality.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Jul 2016 @ 9:44am

    A devils deal...

    both companies show their bad sides in this deal.

    Comcast will now have proxy numbers on netflix activity and Netflix is now getting into bed with the people we have been hating for a while.

    A we move along, I see that Netflix is becoming what we are hating. Just like Google! Both started great, but are sliding into the pit of corruption and evil corporate action.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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