Will Cable Without Cable Boxes Ever Become Reality?

May 16, 2020 Topic: Technology Region: United States Blog Brand: Techland Tags: ComcastCableStreaming DeviceNetflixAmazonDisney+

Will Cable Without Cable Boxes Ever Become Reality?

Why can't this become a reality?

It definitely isn’t hard to figure out that we’re in the age of streaming. With cord-cutting accelerating in recent years, millions have already migrated to Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, and others.

The reason is quite simple. These next-gen platforms have all of today’s new and edgy content that people are hungry for. And best of all, these services don’t tie you into soul-killing contracts and there is no equipment to rent or install. You get to just sit back and enjoy what’s on the screen.

Amid this changing landscape in entertainment consumption, cable companies have been slow to respond. Many of these legacy service providers still make it mandatory for subscribers to use those clunky cable boxes. It really is amazing that these devices aren’t obsolete by now, but it appears that there are indeed customers out there who can’t live without them. This particular customer base is likely older and quite averse to change.

Yes, in some cases, the DVR and on-demand options can be great perks with some of these cable boxes—and customers can get attached to them. They already know how to use it, and don’t want the hassle to relearn a new device. Others are still paying north of $200 a month for DirecTV, but if you tell them about services that cost $50 a month and can get most of the channels you watch (without the unsightly equipment), they’ll often freeze up, unable to make themselves cancel their current contract.

Perhaps it’s best to leave them be, but what the ceaseless momentum in cord-cutting has shown is that many were already fed up with traditional cable companies. Those “hidden” regional sports, broadcast TV, HD technology, and other ridiculous fees have taken a toll on customers’ satisfaction levels, adding on $20 to $30 extra on top of existing cable bills.

Then there is that set-top box rental fee that can cost the consumer on average anywhere between $7 and $15 a month. Moreover, households that access cable TV service from more than one TV typically have to pay for multiple boxes. One particular study released several years ago found that the average American was spending about $230 annually just to use the TV provider’s set-top box. Any sensible cable customer should know that they are getting fleeced.

The mass exodus to streaming platforms, however, is forcing the hand of some cable companies. One notable example is Comcast’s Xfinity Flex, which is offered free of charge to its internet subscribers. Ditching the traditional cable box, the Flex works much like the Amazon Fire TV Stick and the Roku Streaming Stick, but with less verve and sophistication.

With this nifty little device, which comes with a handy voice-activated remote control, customers can get access to TV shows, movies and various content via apps. If you need extra devices for other TVs, they are $5 each per month. It’s definitely more cost-effective than the old-fashioned cable package, but you’ll also get fewer channel options.

The Flex is far from reaching the lofty levels of Netflix or Disney+, but Comcast did announce that it has deployed over 1 million Xfinity Flex devices since its launch last year. It is indeed a nice little milestone for the company, and perhaps, this small success will finally signal the end of those often-reviled cable boxes.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek and Arirang TV. He currently resides in Minneapolis.