There’s a lot of bad news on the retail set-top front. According to the NCTA, the number of retail CableCARD devices deployed has dropped to 600,000 from 603,000 since August. No big surprise. Despite a few flickers of life, the retail CableCARD market has been on a path of decline for years. But then there’s also the news that Intel has gone belly up with its OnCue set-top plans, and even Amazon is delayed with its Kindle-branded set-top, that was supposed to go to market before year end.
Do future retail DVRs have a shot?
Well, actually, yes. The biggest success stories for retail set-tops are game consoles and basic media extenders like Apple TV and Roku. Where the CE guys get into trouble is when they try to muscle in on the TV service space. Between content licensing difficulties and the power that existing cable/telco/satellite TV providers have already amassed, it’s a difficult market for rookie competitors.
Instead, CE players have two options. They can try to bundle new features with over-the-air television – a la Simple.TV, the new Tablo, and Aereo – or they can work with service providers. Pay-TV companies were uninterested in partnering with CE manufacturers just a few short years ago, but times have changed. Time Warner Cable is porting its app to almost any device that will take it, and Comcast and Verizon are likewise showing up on select TVs and game consoles.
There’s also new activity in the downloadable security market. Charter has begun working with a CE company to make its traditional TV services available on retail devices without the need for a CableCARD. The effort is Charter’s way of making good on the conditions of a waiver it received from the FCC to avoid supporting CableCARD technology for an extra two years. The company recently submitted a statement to the FCC saying good faith negotiations with a CE partner are already underway.
It’s possible that Amazon, or Apple, or Google could in the future challenge traditional pay-TV providers. However, hopefully we won’t have to wait for that day to see some more set-top – and specifically DVR – options at retail. There are signs of hope.