FCC Switches Gears From Cable Hardware To Apps

By Chris Smith on September 13, 2016


The FCC is making some major moves. At first, they were on track to requiring cable companies to offer their programming on devices other than their own — like other set-top boxes — so customers wouldn’t be beholden to the fees that come with renting boxes from the cable company itself.

Well, according to some fresh news from the end of last week, it sounds like that plan is changing in an unexpected way: the FCC is shifting from making it about hardware, and now making it about apps.

In the new change, cable companies would have to build and offer apps that are compatible with all major platforms — iOS, Android, Windows, and Roku. We also hear that native and web apps will be accepted.

So, How Does Zype Feel About That?

We’re a little disappointed.

If the FCC wants to give customers a little taste of freedom, we’re all for it. With smartphones, tablets, and gaming consoles also eligible for the app, we’ll see fewer and fewer people opting to get locked into renting boxes from the cable companies. But, this feels like a big step back from the true disintermediation of cable that the original January proposal represented.

We do like that programming will be easier to find, because the apps would have to adhere to universal searches. That means if you’re a creator and you haven’t managed to get your content onto classic TV, your content could still show up alongside video that has made it to wide broadcast. Someone searching for a specific program could also discover yours in the same search . Wonderful.

But like we said, there IS a downside: viewing the programming is limited to however the cable company wants you to view it. We’re not saying they would intentionally make their app suck in a bid to push customers back to their boxes, but it would be nice to have Apple, Google, Roku, etc. take a crack at curating cable content. Going that route might’ve led to some seriously innovative ways of displaying “what’s on” and mixing it with OTT offerings. Instead, we’re probably going to get more of the same from these companies, like we have so far, which is a bunch of lackluster user experience offerings meant to appease and not wow.

This also squeezes the little guy in terms of hardware and platforms. Cable companies would only have to make an app for a device/ecosystem if it has shipped more than 5 MILLION units.

The FCC plans on voting on this pretty quickly, too — on September 29. If Passed, it’ll be official within months, and cable companies would have to ship their new mandated apps within two years, and small companies get four. Either way, expect major companies to fight this the entire way, as Comcast has already said:

"While we appreciate that Chairman Wheeler has abandoned his discredited proposal to break apart cable and satellite services, his latest tortured approach is equally flawed. He claims that his new proposal builds on the marketplace success of apps, but in reality, it would stop the apps revolution dead in its tracks by imposing an overly complicated government licensing regime and heavy-handed regulation in a fast-moving technological space."

It might not be the prettiest solution, or a big enough one, but at least it’s baby steps in the right direction to overhaul a prison-like system that cable has built for years upon years. We would never expect big cable to accept change like this, at least until they figure out how to close off customers’ escape and grab all their wallets.

But it does seem like a nudge into the future, and Zype is all about that.

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