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Cable Companies Pledge Industry-Wide Commitment But Want Control Over UI (arstechnica.com) 83

The FCC proposed rules to force pay-TV providers to make video programming -- and the right to record video -- available to the makers of third-party apps and devices. Under this model, third-party app and equipment makers would be able to create their own interfaces through which cable TV subscribers could access their programming. On Thursday, cable companies noted that they still cannot fully comply with FCC's attempt to open up the set-top box market, but have resigned themselves to accepting some form of regulation. From an Ars Technica report: Cable companies still aren't giving up on the apps approach, but now they say they would agree to rules that make it mandatory for large operators to build apps providing access to all the video customers subscribe to on a wide range of devices. Pay-TV companies with at least 1 million subscribers would have to follow the mandate. Industry representatives told the FCC that they are open to the commission "enforcing an industry-wide commitment to develop and deploy video 'apps' that all large MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] would build to open HTML5 Web standards," they said in an ex parte filing released today. The filing describes meetings with FCC officials involving the cable industry's top lobbyist, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) CEO Michael Powell, representatives of Comcast and AT&T/DirecTV, and reps from cable networks Vme TV, Revolt TV, and TV One.
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Cable Companies Pledge Industry-Wide Commitment But Want Control Over UI

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  • Uh-oh (Score:2, Funny)

    by Yvan256 ( 722131 )

    Industry representatives told the FCC that they are open to the commission "enforcing an industry-wide commitment to develop and deploy video 'apps'...

    Oh great, even the news are going 'apps' now. Can't wait to see the 'apps AC' comment on this one.

    • Re:Uh-oh (Score:4, Informative)

      by The New Guy 2.0 ( 3497907 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @04:11PM (#52331405)

      Really, a lot of compression can be done to graphical displays on television... the CNBC Ticker is an example. Rather than bloat the satellite signal with a ticker that is quickly getting outdated, they can send the ticker as a bunch of compressible letters and numbers, and then reassemble the ticker at the cable headend.

      • The only reason the hardware can keep up with video playback is hardware acceleration. Trust me, cable or satellite boxes trying to display a ticker smoothly at 60Hz with no tearing will be a complete failure.

        And if you want to talk about signal bloat, how about having to have two separate feeds for the same channel (which this would require) just to support older receivers?

        • cable or satellite boxes trying to display a ticker smoothly at 60Hz with no tearing will be a complete failure.

          How long before they have credible GPUs with pixel shaders? Can't be long.

          • Even a $30 SoC is more than these guys seem willing to spend. Your average cable box (pulling a random Motorola) has a 175MHz MIPS32 CPU, which I'd be willing to guess is well under $10.

            There's literally no motivation to compete. They only see other cable companies as competitors (they are generally a local monopoly) and satellite, which also uses garbage hardware. Nevermind that a Roku is more responsive than a cable box - and is my primary UI for Netflix (one of those competitors they're still in deni

    • I don't quite see why they have to be forced to do this. It would be better if they didn't have to do it by regulation. Isn't there an advantage to making their services more customizable and accessible by third party apps? Are they affraid of things like slignbox or soemthing?

      • I wonder why they resist this

        Competition is detrimental to profit margins.
        • Really, there should be nothing stopping a national cable company, competing with two national DBS companies, and in most areas the local phone former-monopolies.

      • by suutar ( 1860506 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @04:14PM (#52331437)

        No, there's a disadvantage because they won't be able to charge set top box rentals if customers can get a box from somewhere else.

        • DirecTV never really offered enough savings in the customer-owned equipment era to compete with cable box rental fees... really box rental is itemized so they can charge less tax.

        • The problem with cable's "compromise' as described is they can charge for the app instead of the cable box. And with limits on recording as well, its essentially a continuation of the existing lock down. I hope the FCC isn't stupid enough to fall for this.
      • Are they affraid of things like slignbox or soemthing?

        Yes. And CableCARD. And any attempt from the past 20 years to let consumers have some control over their TV viewing.

        • Slingbox should now be banned. Why stream the cable channel from your side of the cable connection back over the cable modem when you can grab it from a TV Everywhere datacenter? That has less delay, and keeps from your neighborhood clogging up the local wire.

          • Because it's the Internet and what I do with the pipes I pay for is my business. If the ISP has undersold their bandwidth, that's not the fault of the neighbor and their legitimate use of the Internet.

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            Because perhaps I want to see my recording with the furry bunny ears pasted on top of "The New Guy 2.0"'s head?

            Oh, and I'm not interested in the ISP knowing when, where, or how often I watch New Guy 2.0.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by DarkOx ( 621550 )

        Quite honestly I think the problem is they don't really have much to compete on. I mean its not like they don't all buy the same content and roll it into very similar packages. Assuming you are in one of the few places where you have a choice what makes ComCraps vs. IndirectTV vs. GIOS vs. MyVerse offerings much different.

        In terms of media very very little. Pretty much comes down to Internet service offerings being better on Cable or Fiber than the DSL that gets packaged with Satellite providers.

        Independ

        • XFinity X1 really is way nicer than most of the alternatives

          The alternatives must be really, really bad. X1 is an example of an overly-flowery interface running on inadequate hardware. 300-500ms to react to a touch in my remote isn't acceptable.

          • Comcast's set top boxes have always been awful and horrendously underpowered. I just moved to an apartment where I could finally get Fios, and the boxes respond instantly, as they should. It's inexcusable in 2016 to have a new set top "platform" and cheap out that much on the processor, yet still charge what they do for the box rental.

            • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

              I'll agree the UI performance is abysmal even on the newest kit. My parents just got new boxes and I was visiting them a couple weeks ago and its still slow. It would be a pretty nice UI otherwise. Their 'apps' are nice my dad showed them to me on his Android phone and mom's Iphone. They both performed very well and were pretty usable.

              I can't get cable where I am. I dropped DirectTV last year because I don't really watch enough, I can't get thru other distribution channels to justify the expense. Thei

        • by H3lldr0p ( 40304 )

          Quite honestly I think the problem is they don't really have much to compete on. I mean its not like they don't all buy the same content and roll it into very similar packages. Assuming you are in one of the few places where you have a choice what makes ComCraps vs. IndirectTV vs. GIOS vs. MyVerse offerings much different.

          Exactly. And the entire industry doesn't want to have to find terms on which to compete.

          This is why they're going after NetFlix, YouTube, Twitch, etc. That is competitive content differences. Ones they don't know how to counter them save for dropping their prices. That's not an option in the CEO's mind because then their bottom line is going to be impacted and his salary is usually connected to that somehow.

          It's not just cable cutters who frighten these companies. If it's not something they can put into one

        • There are many reasons for them to want to control the UI. One is that it is a platform where advertisements could be placed and they don't want to give that potential revenue up or let anyone else profit from placing ads there. Nevermind that consumers are revolting against the ads inserted into their television programs by their Samsung TVs; there's a potential that they could get it right.

          Then there's the issue where they want to make sure that it is a human watching the cable and not a device. Time-Warn

          • by Gr8Apes ( 679165 )

            There are many reasons for them to want to control the UI. One is that it is a platform where advertisements could be placed and they don't want to give that potential revenue up or let anyone else profit from placing ads there. Nevermind that consumers are revolting against the ads inserted into their television programs by their Samsung TVs; there's a potential that they could get it right.

            Then there's the issue where they want to make sure that it is a human watching the cable and not a device.

            Those are 2 reasons I would drop cable entirely. As it is, I watch nothing live, and much of my recorded video is replayed through my (not windows) HTPC which allows for all sorts of things to occur as I wish, including rewind, skip back and forth, and stop and restart at any time, from where I left off or some regular chapter markers. VOD and all the other things the ISPs try to sell me are of 0 interest to me, much like cloud anything. It's not different, if it's not on my HD, it's not mine. So why should

      • I don't quite see why they have to be forced to do this. It would be better if they didn't have to do it by regulation.

        I rarely find monopolies like cable companies have little incentive to innovate when they can force customers to rent their to use antiquated boxes at $10 per month. From what I know the companies are milking the boxes for every penny of rental fee they can.

        Let's talk about quality in my personal example. My box hasn't changed in 6 or 7 years and it was old when I got it. It's painful to navigate. Clicking a button could take a few seconds for the box to respond. I've asked for newer box which I cannot

      • by JRV31 ( 2962911 )
        The problem is all the companies and governments want to protect your privacy. From everyone but themselves.
  • Here's something they could really improve on... we know that every TiVo or DVR has the ability to show a weather display... so why not teach it how to find the maps and numbers to make The Weather Channel's Local on the 8s work with a detail level of showing exactly where you live and work.

    Just connect the box to a secret channel filled with weather data (similar to The Weather Star of the 80s), get the box to pull the nearest METAR data, and then draw the big temperature number and fill in the other thing

    • Heh - I remember "the weather channel". My grandparents used to watch that.

      Why aren't you just bookmarking "weather underground" or leaving that as your homepage on your box?
      e.g., https://www.wunderground.com/q/zmw:75201.1.99999
      • Weather Underground: Weeknights at 6pm ET on The Weather Channel.

        Right now, Wund.com was sold with Weather.com to IBM in a vendor-in-control situation. It's really just the same database displayed differently.

      • by ShaunC ( 203807 )

        Heh - I remember "the weather channel". My grandparents used to watch that.

        It isn't your grandparents' Weather Channel anymore, gone is the 5 minute loop of local conditions playing over cheesy music all day. They have some interesting shows on now. Three Scientists Walk Into a Bar, Extreme Weather, Storm Riders, Weather Gone Viral, Hurricanes 360. I think they're all a bit informative and entertaining, good enough to have on while I'm winding down at night, even if I'm not exactly glued to the screen. My only complaint is there aren't more episodes, they're all from last year and

    • Weather scan is there but's it's sd only and stuck on older star tech.

  • by denis-The-menace ( 471988 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @04:09PM (#52331397)

    meanwhile, they are horrible at designing UI.
    -Inconsistent UI
    -un-intuitive UI
    -too many buttons needed to control the UI

    • And the hardware is generally so underpowered that the UI latency is painful.

    • Yep, TiVo's ad skipping feature only works on shows that accept it... I.E., TiVo paid them to supply the data!

  • Is that the HTML5 variant with DRM embedded? [wikipedia.org] So basically "We will allow third parties to port our app to any device that they want to, as long as they use our web page to do it. Thanks for the free port to your device, chumps."
  • by rlp ( 11898 )

    The problem will solve itself as more and more consumers "cut the cord" dropping cable and switching to streaming.

    • That works for entertainment (why pay for HBO movies when they'll soon be on Netflix?) but for video news you're basically down to CBSN.

      • Online video news is distributed per-story, not in half hour episodes. I assure you that there's a lot more content providers out there. What the Internet lacks in better curation, it makes up for in convenience.

      • Um... you might want to Google "SlingTV", "Playstation VUE", and/or "Southern Fibernet". The first two are available now, the third is in beta.

        I pay $14/month (with T-mobile customer discount) to get SlingTV's multi-stream service (including CNN, FX, Comedy Central, AdultSwim, History, NatGeo, and HGTV). The only thing that sucks about it is the lack of DVR functionality, which means that CNN is one of the only channels I actually watch on it (the other channels do have some/all of the current season's epis

      • by Rakarra ( 112805 )

        why pay for HBO movies when they'll soon be on Netflix?

        Because usually they're not.
        I love my Netflix, but the content companies have been fighting a cold war with them, starving them for content. If I only had Netflix streaming, I'd cancel the subscription in a heartbeat. It's not worth much.

    • Sorry, they thought of that. Internet-only packages are priced such that it's stupid not to add in the bundled TV.

  • by slk ( 2510 ) on Thursday June 16, 2016 @04:18PM (#52331457)
    A TV is a monitor into which you plug your Chromecast / Roku / Apple TV / Media PC and stream stuff. The whole "Cable company DVR" / "Smart TV" / etc is just a pile of legacy mess that will go the way of the dodo bird, Microsoft Bob, and (hopefully) vendor Android skins.
  • the ability to "record" streaming content?

    I thought I wanted an integrated TV & PVR so that I could record shows from HBO/local-TV/any-cable-channel without having to pickup 3 remotes. Let Sony/Toshiba et al build a smarter ecosystem that competes against the cable box. I don't need to record Netflix.

    But wait - do I want this set-top box to be able to play content from the cable companies streaming library (or instance - I can watch sports shows later via the Xfinity app). These too?

    Seems that the c

  • They also want the outlet / mirroring / access / BS fee. per box

    The POS i-guide with ad's on each f***ing page.

  • no, I think what they really want is control over U and I.

    Really, does anyone doubt me here?

  • What we're going to wind up with are 30 "different" cable boxes running the same lousy cable company code with the same lousy restrictive features. They need to realize it's crap like putting banner advertisements on the guide is why people want someone elses hardware. This will do *nothing* to competition. It will only saturate the market with the exact same crap.
  • What they really want to do here is lock the content with DRM using the EME. This is the real reason they chose HTML5 for the "UI".

  • But hell no! I don't want to be forced to scroll through all the shopping channels and Spanish channels to find what I want.

  • ... as long as it is black.(*)

    So as long as you do what they tell you to do, you are free to do that and otherwise they will force you to do so.

    (*)Yes, I know it is not correct.

  • Here is the problem:

    On Thursday, cable companies noted that they still cannot fully comply with FCC's attempt to open up the set-top box market,

    Supposedly, all the big hoopla with "Cable Card" was that it would permit third party companies to provide services. So just require the companies to use this for their own boxes. If they can't? Then maybe this "Cable Card" solution wasn't a solution after all.

    We have the right to record and time shift. That right was established by the supreme court back in the days of VCR tapes. These companies have a business model that is based on "Deny rights to end users".

    Worse, "DVR Service" is co

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