The FCC is considering an “Unlock The Box” proposal that would require TV providers in the United States to provide their content in a way that would let you access the channels you pay for on something other than a cable box. But the TV industry has been arguing that the proposal is unnecessary because providers are already working toward a future where you don’t need to buy a dedicated cable box.
Now Comcast is taking a big step in that direction. The cable giant is launching an Xfinity TV Partner program that lets subscribers watch their shows using an app on a Roku or a 2016 Samsung Smart TV. You don’t need to rent a cable box.
In a blog post, Comcast Senior Vice President Mark Hess says customers will get the same Xfinity TV guide, live and on-demand content, and cloud DVR features that they would get from a cable box.
And that’s a key difference between the approach Comcast and other TV providers are taking and the one that’s actually advocated in the FCC’s Unlock The Box proposal.
That’s because the proposal as it stands means you wouldn’t have to use Comcast’s TV guide or user interface. Instead, third-party hardware and software companies would be able to re-package it in different ways that could be faster, offer better search features, or other changes.
So unlocking the box could give consumers more choice not just in the hardware they use, but also in how they interact with content. But TV providers worry that giving up control of the user guide, position of channels in the lineup, and other elements would weaken their ability to negotiate deals with content creators. So they’re fighting back and offering up “Eliminate The Box,” app-based alternatives like the one Comcast just announced.
Both sides of the debate envision a future where you might not have to rent a cable box anymore… but another key difference is that one approach would be regulated, while the other is strictly voluntary.
Comcast’s Mark Hess argues that the launch of the Xfinity TV Partner program shows that FCC’s proposed regulation is unnecessary. But the announcement comes about a month after Verizon announced plans to shut down its FiOS TV apps for smart TVs and Xbox game consoles.
The FCC is accepting comments on the proposal through April 22nd (use procedure number 16-42 to leave a comment).
Comcast says while Roku and Samsung are two of its first partners, the Xfinity TV Partner program is open to others. Roku and Samsung TV users will be able to start using Comcast apps in lieu of cable boxes later this year.
Want to know more about the debate over the future of TV delivery in the United States? I dug into this issue for the LPX podcast recently. You can find more details on web page for that episode, or just click the play button below to listen: