Cable's Grip On The Living Room Is Getting Weaker

the cable guy tbi

The cable industry’s huge incumbent advantage over upstart Internet video rivals is beginning to weaken.

It’s time for cable companies to fix their awful user interfaces, get their video-on-demand services in tune with this century, and dominate the digital living room — or risk increasing disruption.

The latest: The first deal to bring live, major league sports to a cheap, Web-only set-top box. Not a technology breakthrough, but the latest sign of cable’s grip slipping.

Roku, which sells a $99 digital set-top box for streaming movies and TV episodes from Netflix and Amazon, just announced it will stream Major League Baseball games in hi-def over the Internet for no fee beyond a MLB.TV subscription. Later this year, it plans to introduce more video and audio sources, becoming a robust “over-the-top” entertainment service. All this without a monthly cable fee — which mostly supports channels you don’t watch.

Fortunately for the cable companies, owning something like a Roku box or Apple TV is still very niche. Roku has hundreds of thousands of customers, we estimate, while cable TV has tens of millions. It will take a while for enough content to trickle onto the Web to make it a viable competitor to cable for most people. By then, companies like Roku could be out of business.

And, to be sure, the cable industry does have several built-in advantages: Owning the pipe that runs into your house; owning the set-top box already plugged into your TV; content owners that depend heavily on cable subscription fees for revenue, etc.

But speaking for ourselves, it’s now been 15 months since we dumped our $80/month digital cable subscription to become a “Hulu household.” Ever-improving services like Roku — and no visible progress from cable — give us no incentive to go back.

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.