Advice to Big Ops: Add Streamers to the Box

Integrating apps from subscription video-on-demand services into cable set-top boxes could go a long way toward tapping into an underserved demographic for subscription video-on-demand — older viewers — while providing pay TV with another retention tool, according to some analysts.

Several cable, telco TV and satellite-TV providers already have integrated apps from Netflix and Hulu into their set-tops, and digital video recorder pioneer TiVo has had a Netflix app incorporated into its boxes for years. And TiVo’s newest product — TiVo Bolt — integrates Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu and other Internet streaming services with the box, while also serving as a DVR. But Morgan Stanley media analyst Ben Swinburne said there a few key operators missing, notably Comcast and Charter Communications.


Getting Comcast and Charter into the set-top integration fold could help the cable operators’ retention efforts while giving the SVOD services access to older customers.

That could be a key demographic for Netflix in particular. After a strong first quarter of domestic subscriber growth — it added 2.2 million customers in the period — Netflix said subscriber increases would slow in the second quarter to about 500,000. Netflix could make up the difference by targeting older pay TV customers, Swinburne said.

According to a survey by researcher AlphaWise and Morgan Stanley, about 63% of respondents aged 18-29 were Netflix subscribers while just 30% of those aged 45-64 and 19% of those aged 65 and up used the SVOD service. Ease of use was one of the reasons those nonsubscribers gave for not being Netflix customers.

Attracting the older demo could be a coup for Netflix. Swinburne said older viewers watch more TV on their TV sets: about 19 hours a week, compared with 11 hours for 18-to-29-year-olds.

They also are more likely to subscribe to pay TV: 92% of consumers 65 and up and 88% of 45-to-64-year-olds were pay TV subscribers, compared to 86% for the 18-to-19-year-olds.

“Set-top integration would introduce Netflix to this customer base through a service the cohort is already using frequently, and reduce the friction associated with Netflix consumption on a TV set,” Swinburne wrote in a note to clients.

Swinburne has some data to back that up. In the U.K., cable operator Virgin Media saw Netflix subscriptions rise significantly after it began rolling out TiVo set-tops.

Swinburne said there was a direct correlation between customers with TiVo boxes and Netflix usage. Virgin began rolling out TiVo boxes with a Netflix app in November 2013, when Netflix usage among its customers was less than 20%. By September 2015, when 78% of its customers had an integrated TiVo box, Netflix usage grew to 28%.

Virgin Media wasn’t the only U.K. provider to experience the same phenomenon. At telecom and video service provider TalkTalk, Netflix usage increased from 17% in September 2014 to 25% in September 2015. TalkTalk began integrating the Netflix app in its boxes in January of 2015.

While there are issues that would have to be worked out still, Swinburne said he believes that adding the nearly 40 million video customers from Comcast and Charter to the mix could help tip the scales for Netflix. Comcast’s X1 platform could easily accommodate a Netflix app as it continues to roll out across the country. Although Comcast has been mum on the possibility of integrating Netflix into X1, Charter CEO Tom Rutledge has said publicly that the cable operator would investigate the possibility.

Comments like those have helped fuel Swinburne’s optimism, adding that Charter and even Comcast could be “willing partners with Netflix in the near or medium term.”


Pivotal Research Group CEO and senior media & communications analyst Jeff Wlodarczak said integrating the app with set-tops makes sense.

“It is pretty easy to get Netflix, but for some folks — mainly the older generation — anything that makes it easier to sign up would be beneficial for Netflix subscriptions. If Netflix is willing to give up part of the economics, it becomes more palatable for distributors.”

While cable operators may be skittish, thinking that integrating Netflix could cut into pay-per-view revenue, Swinburne believes the impact would be minimal.

And as broadband becomes more prevalent — all the major operators now have more high-speed Internet customers than video customers — making them happy becomes even more important.

“At two hours daily of viewing per member, cable operators — increasingly more ISPs than MVPDs — have growing reason to bring Netflix into the tent,” Swinburne wrote.