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Apple TV, TiVo at Risk When Cable Standard Expires in 2016

Our Tivo has not been able to update since 12/29, and only has a guide out to 1/11/2016, Tivo so far has been unable to fix this, and blame Comcast, though our cable is through Charter.  I suspect the shit will hit the fan around 1/11/16 if this does not get solved!

Stock photo of a man cutting a cable cord.

Consumers dissatisfied with their cable TV subscriptions are switching to online video services, but those cable companies are not giving up without a fight and have heavily lobbied Congress for reinforcements. A new law that goes into effect in 2016 will remove requirements that ensure users of devices like Apple TV or TiVo will be able to connect with cable television.

The average U.S. household pays $231 each year to rent set top boxes from their cable providers, according to a Senate study, which notes providers often lease 2.6 boxes to households for the average price of $7.43 each month, or $89.16 per year. Because of the money cable companies make through those devices - in addition to cable subscriptions – they have little incentive to support new device makers that want to connect to their TV signals, according to the study commissioned by Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.

Cable companies will have greater power to exercise that interest starting in 2016, when they will no longer be required to offer a common standard for devices to integrate with their cable TV signals. The existing common standard that aims to allow devices to integrate with cable will expire on December 31, 2015, as part of the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization. Devices that use CableCARD will still be made compatible with cable TV, but no common standard has been created to replace it as an option for device makers dissatisfied with that program.

“When Congress last year regrettably removed the requirement that cable company services be compatible with set-top boxes purchased in the marketplace rather than rented directly from the provider, we doomed consumers to being captive to cable company rental fees forever,” Markey warned in the study. “We also endangered a competitive set-top box marketplace, replacing consumer choice with cable company control.”

Budget-conscious customers are already eroding cable business profits by avoiding expensive cable-TV bundles and opting for less expensive a la carte access offered by Web-based services like Hulu and Netflix. Subscriptions to traditional multichannel providers dipped steadily from 101.9 million customers in 2012 to 101.3 million so far in 2015, according to the market research firm SNL Kagan.

Cable profits are also being threatened by the growing market for devices that connect to these services and to cable TV, including a new version of the Apple TV expected this fall. The set top box market is worth more than $19.5 billion per year, according to publicly available data cited in the Senate study.

Price of Television Consoles

The existing cable integration standard known as CableCARD was not widely used, but no new standard has been selected to replace it, according to a Democratic Senate aide. Markey and Blumenthal in November wrote the Federal Communications Commission requesting a new common standard for set top devices. A group formed by the commission is currently debating how to replace that standard.

If the FCC fails to create a common standard then device makers like Apple or TiVo would have to strike individual deals with different cable providers to gain support for their products made after 2015, the Senate staffer says.

“For cable companies renting out these boxes is highly lucrative,” he says. “If it’s the only box that works you have to rent it from them. The cable industry doesn’t really have an incentive to enable other device makers.”

The integration provision in the STELAR law "will not affect the market for retail devices and CableCARDs will continue to be available," Joy Sims, senior director for the National Cable Telecommunications Association, tells U.S. News. TiVo CEO Tom Rogers also said during an earnings call in November that moving beyond the lackluster CableCARD standard was a positive step, but he looked forward to "transitioning to a new standard of downloadable security that works better.” ​​​​​​​​​​​​

Cable lobbyists stepped up their donations to campaigns in recent years, working to influence legislative efforts like STELAR. Comcast had a particularly large lobbying presence in a bid to support its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable, which the FCC ultimately opposed.

Annual Lobbying by Comcast Corp

Cable companies were among the top donors to lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that shepherded the STELAR process, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Comcast was the top donor to House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton, R-Mich., during the 2014 election cycle.

The National Association of Broadcasters was the top contributor to Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., chairman of the communications and technology subcommittee, followed by Comcast in third and 21st Century Fox in fourth place.

The top donor to Blumenthal’s campaign committee between 2009 and 2014 was Cablevision, a telecom that broke with the status quo channel bundling model of the industry by becoming the first provider to offer a variety of a la carte cable options to users including access to HBO Now streaming video.

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Comments about the issue I'm having; which may be related to this change in law for cable companies in 2016:

Wow, is there anything that can be done besides getting a new set top box?

This seems like abuse of power. 

Yeah it does seem like an abuse, but they are fighting for their existence, times are changing, and they are possibly going by the wayside.  I guess you can't blame them for trying, but I hope they lose, we need to progress, not stay stuck with outdated products and services.

Amen to that, Janill.

If you're stuck will you buy a new device or switch to DieecTV?

I think we'd look at getting DVR through Dish, Direct or Charter.  I hate commercials, and I love pausing and rewinding, as well as how well it manages my shows so I'm watching exactly what I want, and not wasting my time surfing, or watching mediocre stuff.  I am liking the Apple too, but it has it's limits, adds extra steps to get to your show, many shows are limited ie last season, and better shows not available, and many channels/apps require that you get service from a cable company to access the app, so it's not quite there yet for me, but very much improved.

Yeah, you just explained why I too am having difficulty cutting the cord.

There's no one single solution so right now I have DirecTV + Amazon Prime + Apple TV.

And I still feel like I'm missing things because no Netflix. Sheesh!

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