Time Warner Cable is starting to take cord cutters seriously.
Beginning later this month, TWC customers in parts of New York and New Jersey will be able to subscribe to cable TV without renting a cable box. They will be able to access all of the channels a typical subscriber can get, but they won’t have to pay for an ugly set top box and use a remote with dozens of buttons to watch TV.
And if they subscribe to TWC internet already, they won’t have to take time off of work to wait for a technician to come to their house to install anything.
Instead, they will access live and on on-demand TV through an app on a Roku streaming box that the cable company will send them for free.
It’s part of a trial the company is doing to gauge interest in a new type of service aimed at people who subscribe to internet, but don’t pay for TV.
“We understand not everybody wants a set top box,” Alix Cottrell, the group vice president of video at Time Warner Cable, told Tech Insider at the company’s Manhattan offices last week. “It’s a different experience.”
The fees to rent a cable box from TWC vary, but in parts of Manhattan, it costs $US11.25 a month. This adds up to $US135 per year in fess that someone wouldn’t have to pay if they use TWC’s new service.
A growing number of Americans are subscribing to high speed internet but shunning pay TV subscriptions. The number of these so-called “broadband only” homes in the US grew to 11.7 million in the first quarter of the year, a 20% increase over the same period in 2013, according to the media research firm SNL Kagan.
And it’s these homes — the “cord cutters,” “cord shavers,” and “cord nevers” — that have forgone traditional cable in favour of watching movies and TV shows from services like Netflix, Hulu, and HBO Now, that Time Warner Cable is targeting.
The service will look familiar to anyone who has ever used Time Warner Cable’s existing TWC TV app on the Roku — it’s actually the exact same app. Subscribers have traditionally used the app to complement their traditional cable service, such as on a second TV in a bedroom.
The difference is that you won’t need the cable box in your home in order to use the app. Just sign into the Roku app, and start watching.
I had a chance to use an early version of the app last week at TWC’s Manhattan headquarters, and I was impressed. The grid showing what’s on will be familiar to many, the remote doesn’t take much getting used to, and finding what to watch is easy.
Flipping through channels was quick, and I didn’t have to wait for any video to load or buffer — it was also just as responsive and quick as navigating with a cable box. The picture is also in HD.
People who subscribe to TWC’s new service won’t have to switch inputs on their TV each time they want to go from watching live TV to watching Netflix, and vice versa.
“That’s what customers want,” Cottrell said. “We know they’re going to Netflix — we’re ok with that.”
But there are some downsides to the service.
Apart from the type of device you use to watch, there isn’t anymore flexibility with TV packages. Interested subscribers who live in one of the areas where the company is testing it will choose from the same packages people who get traditional TV would get.
And unlike the growing number of streaming apps, like Sling TV, Netflix, and Hulu, to name just a few, which allow you to sign up and quit as you’d like, TWC’s service requires a contract for at least year. And with that contract comes those taxes and fees that you don’t see with streaming services.
It also doesn’t have DVR capability, as that’s a feature you get with a set top box.
Finally, searching for an actor, show, or movie can be a chore, as you have to use the Roku remote to scroll letter by letter. The predictive text works very well — you can start typing the name of a person or TV show, and it will appear — but in this age of ubiquitous voice search, typing with a cursor on the remote seems antiqued.
Still, the new service represents a shift in thinking for one of the largest cable companies in the country.
“This is not a millennial app. This is really targeted at high speed data customers who haven’t been interested in video,” Cottrell said. “It’s easy. It’s flexible.”
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