With streaming giants Netflix and Amazon gaining users at an unprecedented pace, it seems like an unusual time for the FCC to go on the offensive against cable companies and their relatively proprietary cable box technology.
However, the recent vote on unlocking cable box technology is the result of an extensive probe by Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut that found customers are being gouged for over $20 billion a year by cable companies for the required box rentals.
Changing the Face of Cable
Although the aim of the FCC is only to allow cable customers to choose the devices on which they consume their cable subscriptions, experts believe that the effects will be far reaching.
One of the main and immediate changes will be allowing innovators like Google and Apple to inject fresh blood into the cable box industry. Although that doesn’t seem like much on the surface, this could mean the merging of existing streaming media platforms and traditional wired cable services.
Tech companies across the country are cheering this move, already proposing units that would end channel flipping forever. Future units may look more like streaming boxes, with apps for each channel that make it easier to find exactly what a cable customer wants to watch instead of forcing them to flip through potentially hundreds of channels or listings.
Cable companies are strongly opposed to the change, citing their existing contracts with stations that specify how content can be delivered. This argument, though, falls flat since cable boxes will continue to function as cable boxes – the only difference will be that customers will finally be able to purchase the boxes of their choice instead of being tied to long-term rental contracts.
Another concern that cable companies have raised is that bringing new companies into the cable box fold means these companies will automatically find other ways to exploit customers. Fears of uncheckable abuse like Google’s use of cable boxes for tracking viewer data and Apple’s insertion of unregulated commercials are being tossed around. This has yet to be a problem for streaming boxes, there’s no expectation that would change for cable boxes.
Unlocking cable box technology opens doors for everyone, from the cable company to streaming services and customers. Not only will customers have more options in technology that delivers their entertainment, the freedom to innovate may create new media platforms that haven’t even been dreamed of yet.