Cable Industry's 'Ditch The Box' Proposal Gains Ground

Earlier this year, the Federal Communications Commission said it would consider issuing new regulations aimed at letting consumers easily watch television programs on tablets, smart TVs and other devices.

The FCC's proposal, "unlock the box," called for rules that would enable companies other than cable and satellite providers to develop boxes that can access pay-TV programs.

The cable industry, which opposes the initiative, countered with "ditch the box," which involves making programs available via streaming apps. That proposal accomplishes some of the same goals as the FCC's original plan, but also differs in key regards. Importantly, consumers won't necessarily be able to time-shift programs that are streamed in apps.

Despite that potential drawback, the cable industry's plan appears to be gaining traction. Consider, agency representatives recently told executives from Fox, Disney and Time Warner that the FCC was "seriously considering" a proposal by cable providers to make programs available via apps, according to filings by the entertainment companies and AT&T.

Amazon -- which is on record as supporting the original plan -- this week suggested a compromise. Specifically, Amazon proposed that the FCC tell cable providers to either make their programs available to device manufacturers, or alternatively, make their programs available as streaming apps. But, Amazon adds, cable providers choosing the streaming-apps route should be required to offer at least some time-shifting capabilities.

"In the interest of fostering consumer choice and spurring innovation in how consumers search, navigate, and consume their content, we urge the Commission to consider a solution that blends the two proposals," referring to the FCC's original proposal and the cable industry's streaming-apps offer. "This solution would enable market stakeholders to cooperate to deliver innovative viewing experiences while ensuring that customers, at a minimum, can enjoy the ... services they have already paid for on the device of their choice."

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