I wrote earlier this month that I thought pay TV operators needed to put an open app platform (one where any provider can launch an app unregulated by the operator) on their set-top boxes. I suggested this because pay TV services are increasingly at a competitive disadvantage because they can’t integrate OTT TV services, as other retail set-top boxes are doing. There is, of course, another approach to fighting the open TV app market approach: don’t fight them, join them.
Charter President Tom Rutledge said that its pay TV subscribers can now access their TV content through Roku streaming media players and Roku powered TVs using a new Spectrum TV app. Mr. Rutledge said that On-Demand access would be added later, implying that the first release will provide live channel access only. Mr. Rutledge also said that the user can watch TV through the Spectrum TV app on any TV in the house.[Update: Charter also quietly introduced Spectrum TV Stream. This broadband bundle combines ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox with either HBO or Showtime and a free Roku 3 for $12.99 a month. Subscribers can add a bundle of 16 cable channels including ESPN and HGTV for an additional $7 a month.]
One of the new features Roku announced last week was Roku “Hotel and Dorm”, which lets a Roku owner user their device anywhere he or she travels. However, it looks the Spectrum TV app will not work outside of the home. The Roku description of the app states that a user needs to have a subscription to Spectrum TV and an “authorized modem.” Charter clearly requires its customers to be on an authorized Charter broadband connection to watch the content.
Putting Spectrum TV on Roku is a smart move by Charter. When a customer switches to Roku to watch shows on Netflix, Spectrum TV is available side-by-side with it. Charter is not the first company to do this. Time Warner Cable allows its customers to watch up 300 channels of live TV through its TWC TV Roku app. However, TWC TV allows Roku users to find shows on its channels through Roku’s unified search. Hopefully, Charter will soon add that support too.
Meanwhile, it looks like operators are no closer to opening up their own set-top boxes to OTT apps. The FCC has been trying to create a more open cable set-top box market for years. Some will remember that cablecard, with its complex security solution, was part of that effort. The industry is looking for a simpler “downloadable security” model, and pay TV operators are lining up behind one proposal, while open advocates are behind another. According to Public Knowledge, the operator approach “takes a proprietary set-top box and transforms it into a proprietary app.”
Ironically, Charter’s pay TV architecture allows it sidestep this contentious security debate and launch any Internet app it pleases. Charter uses ActiveVideo Networks Cloud TV solution, which runs the apps on servers in the headend. For example, Cloud TV is used by UPC Hungary, which provides YouTube’s standard web client (the same one anyone can run on their PC) to its customers through existing set-top boxes. Charter liked the Cloud TV solution so much that, in partnership with Arris, it purchased ActiveVideo Networks earlier this year.
Charter’s move to support Roku is a convenience for its customers and keeps Spectrum TV in the mix when they change input to watch OTT video. However, the company has the means at its disposal to make it so a customer never needs to switch TV inputs at all. Leveraging the Cloud TV platform, Mr. Rutledge can bring all the richness that is online video to set-top boxes in customer’s homes today.
Why it matters
Charter’s move to put pay TV channels on Roku keeps that content in the mix when a customer switches TV inputs to watch Netflix.
This is important to ensure that pay TV remains relevant to subscribers.
However, a better approach is to remove the need to switch TV inputs at all by bring OTT video services onto the pay TV set-top box.