Like most of America at one point, I have a cable television box. In fact, the service that I currently use is AT&T’s U-verse. It’s actually a good system. I’ve previously had Comcast and Dish Network. The service is adequate, easy to use and has plenty of channels to choose from. In general, I’m pretty satisfied with it.
However, this last Christmas I bought a Nintendo Wii box for the sole purpose of being able to watch streaming Netflix programming and YouTube videos. While I turn it one maybe once a week, it never fails to impress me with the variety of shows that are available. My wife is a big fan of BBC programming like As Time Goes By and Keeping Up Appearances. I’ve found that we can watch compete episodes any time we like via YouTube.
But, honestly, it’s still a bit of a pain in the ass. I have an older HD TV that doesn’t have an HDMI input. And the Wii has only a simple video and audio out. So whatever shows we watch are in standard definition. And to watch programming with the Wii requires handling a few remotes and doing searches for content with the Wii controller, which is a job only for the sure-handed.
All of this brings me to the point that I’d like to make. The cable box that AT&T provides is actually a programable platform. If they really wanted to, AT&T (or the cable box manufacturer) could provide “apps” that allow me to watch content directly from Netflix, YouTube, Hulu or whomever. As a consumer, I would consider this to be ideal: I would have fewer remotes to fiddle with, could conceivably use the DVR capabilities of my box to record shows from these other sources and in general make my cable box the hub of my entertainment universe.
I think that this is an important distinction to make. Apparently the cable companies think that I’m not aware of these other content sources. The fact is many people have already unplugged. They’re watching their shows using Wii boxes, PlayStations, Roku boxes or even now Chromecast. Or they’re watching on the laptops or even their phones.
Listen up cable providers: this is your last chance to add value to your service. If you don’t, the appeal of the alternatives is going to continue to peel off more and more customers. Cable TV is expensive. I get that your worried that by opening up your box and allowing other providers to use your boxes and network that you’re going to lose control over what your customers choose to view. Guess what, they’re doing that already. Make yourselves invaluable to us as the sole provider of everything; otherwise you run the risk of being the provider of nothing at all.