Innovation

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
cable, cord cutting, streaming

Companies:
comcast



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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  • icon
    Lord Lidl of Cheem (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 3:47am

    I see no problem letting comcast assume control of my home

    I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 4:19am

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

      A 10$ fee every time you want to open your front door.

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

      • identicon
        Michael, 20 Nov 2018 @ 6:29am

        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.

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

        • icon
          datadatadatadata (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:00am

          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.

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

          • icon
            Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:17am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

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

          • icon
            Thad (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:58am

            Re: tl;dr

            There's a Philip K Dick story where a man goes to his apartment and everything is coin-operated -- he has to put money into his TV to turn it on, his fridge to open it and get food, etc. I don't remember the title but I always thought Dick's satire of the future of capitalism was razor-sharp.

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

            • icon
              Anonymous Monkey (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 12:01pm

              Re: Re: tl;dr

              I Think that I had seen a video about that long time ago on TV. It was just a clip but ...


              I stopped watching all TV after that o_o

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 8:07am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

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

        • identicon
          Iggy, 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:18am

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

          Its all good as long as the Government doesn't control your internet. That would be oppressive.

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

      • identicon
        Unanimous Cow Herd, 20 Nov 2018 @ 6:34am

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

        You sir, win the internet for today.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 9:11am

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

        $10 - how'd you get he discounted rate?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 4:43am

    TV Adverts for EXACTLY what your fridge just ran out of.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 5:14am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 5:50am

    "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.

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

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 6:16am

    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!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Akash seth, 20 Nov 2018 @ 6:54am

    What is processer??

    Very good thankyou

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:13am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 8:50am

      Re: Cable box or Internet Router

      You also seem confused. A router is not what gives you access to the Internet.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 9:13am

        Re: Re: Cable box or Internet Router

        I'm sure he meant modem, or modem/router combination. Rest of the post stands, though.

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

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 20 Nov 2018 @ 9:15am

        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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 9:17am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:40am

    So let me get this straight, Comcast is offering a box that I will pay for that will do what my smart tv will do except worse. Brilliant! Comcraptastic!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 7:41am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 9:03am

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2018 @ 11:14am

    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.

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


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