If Cable Companies Start Streaming ShowsWhat It Would Mean For Consumers

This story was written by Rory Maher.
As we and others have reported, cable operators are exploring the idea of negotiating streaming rights into their carriage agreements with cable networks. If that becomes a reality, what would it mean for consumers? Giving cable companies another service to charge for can't be good for viewers, right? Well, it's not quite that simple. Here are the upsides:

Consumers could finally get a universal set-top box that converts internet video into high-quality TV viewing. People who want to watch internet video on TV now are faced with few (not great) options: get a simple converter from the local Radio Shack that is clumsy and often offers pixelated viewing, use a media center PC, or rely on Boxee, a start-up that recently had Hulu content pulled from its service. If cable companies were to control much of the network content on the internet, they would probably stick a chip in their set-top boxes that would allow for a more user-friendly format for watching online video on a TV. And people could use it to watch not just Lost or Friday Night Lights, but everything from video news clips on MSN to user-generated content from YouTube. The cable companies could also add web-browsing features as well.

There would be more programming available. Currently, the cable networks make only a subset of their shows available on Hulu- typically, only the most recent four or five episodes of a given seriesand for a limited window. If the cable companies and networks can find a way to make more money from online video, they're more likely to offer entire seasons, or even entire libraries from previous seasons, like ABC.com now does. The caveat: You'd have to be a subscriber of the cable provider to get the extra content, and would likely have to pay an incrementally larger subscription fee.


By Rory Maher