Proof the cable companies are scared of the FCC, Apple, and their zillions of new competitors in the living room? They’re taking proactive steps to make it — gasp! — easier to use their services.
At CES on Tuesday, Comcast (CMCSA) chief Brian Roberts will announce his company’s plans to roll out Tru2way, a standard format that cable companies, TV manufacturers, and other gadget makers will use to make their devices talk to each other for services like digital TV and video-on-demand.
Comcast will activate the service by the end of the year, the AP reports, and companies like Panasonic, Samsung, LG, Intel, and Microsoft are already on board. Expect to see a slew of products announced in the next year, such as TVs that don’t need cable boxes, software TV tuners built in to computers and video game consoles, and portable gadgets in the same vein as Comcast’s slick DVR-to-go, which lets you take recorded TV shows with you and doubles as a portable DVD player.
Make no mistake — the FCC had significant influence getting cable companies to open up. “They don’t have a lot of friends at the FCC right now,” Bernstein cable analyst Craig Moffett told the AP. “I suspect a lot of this is trying to beat the FCC to the punch.”
But we think competition played a leading role in getting the carriers to open up. Phone companies like Verizon are aggressively luring cable customers to their digital TV offerings. And every day, cable further loses its grip as the easiest, most convenient way to watch digital content.
Video sites like YouTube and Hulu, online media stores like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Unbox, video game consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox 360, and set-top devices like Apple TV and LG’s Netflix box are working their way into millions of living rooms. HD content on the Web will come sooner than later. With the exception of live, pro sports, the studios and networks are putting their shows everywhere. And while broadband video services are all riding on Internet pipes from cable companies, none of them rely on cable companies for content.
So at the risk of becoming a dumb pipe, the cable giants are finally holding out a hand to the consumer electronics industry. And if they can work with their device partners and create interesting, useful gadgets, they might hold their ground.
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