Network ownership will no longer mean content control with new STB rules

16 February 2016 by Steve Blum
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It’ll all look the same.

Opening up the currently closed set top box market will disrupt, and perhaps kill, the network business models that rely on it. On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission is set to launch a process that to write new rules requiring cable, satellite and other flavors of multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to give third party manufacturers direct access to their television transmission streams, including on-screen guide data. With all due respect for license limitations, such as recording rights, of course.

Video distributors’ set top boxes are quickly becoming anachronisms. While wandering the exhibit floor at CES last month, I was struck by the diminishing number of traditional consumer electronics products. Functions that were once the job of separate boxes – recording, storage and play back, to name three examples – are either built into video screens and smart phones or shuffled off onto to remote, Internet-connected servers. Gaming is still an exception to the trend, but even there the creative and marketing energy is going into connected toys, rather than game consoles.

Once video distributors unlock their programming streams, though, navigation, decoding and recording capabilities can built into television sets (or smart phones or tablets or desk top computers or whatever the next cool gizmo will be). Linear television programming can be seamlessly blended with over the top content, personal video recordings, social media, games and anything else human imagination can create.

It’s not about boxes. It’s about pulling linear television onto the level and highly competitive playing field occupied by other content distribution and access technologies. Owning the pipes will no longer mean controlling the content that flows through them.