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App-tastic Future for Retail Cable Boxes

There are many reasons why the cable industry thinks the road to the retail future of set-tops and other video devices will be paved by apps. About 469 million of them, in fact.

That’s an estimate of the number of retail devices (a group that includes tablets, PCs, smart TVs, gaming consoles, streaming players and smartphones) in the U.S. that can currently be served by a multichannel video programming distributor, according to data (see table) recently presented by CableLabs chief technology officer Ralph Brown in a blog post, with findings based on several sources, including U.S. Census Bureau reports, The State of the Tablet Market, and a recent connected- TV study from eMarketer.

Brown also noted that 96% of those retail devices can be served by one or more MVPD; 67% can be served by an app from all of the top 10 U.S. MVPDs; and that there have been more than 56 million downloads of iOS and Android apps proffered by the top 10.

He posted that information in part to amplify cable’s argument that the best path forward to support MVPD services on retail devices is an apps-based approach.

A Federal Communications Commission- appointed committee focused on finding a downloadable successor to the CableCard issued a report on Aug. 28 including multiple proposals, including the aforementioned MVPD-supported, apps-based approach, as well as an “All- Vid”-style option that would rely on a government-mandated device that could unify pay TV services. The cable industry has long-rejected an AllVid approach.

The FCC Media Bureau is currently seeking public comments on the final report. The agency has not said if it intends to follow that up with a new rulemaking.