Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Roku CEO is not in favor of FCC plans for cable set top boxes
Roku's CEO isn't a fan of the FCC's plan to open up cable boxes. In an op-ed published in The Wall Street Journal last night, Roku CEO and founder Anthony Wood writes that "there is no need for the FCC or any other regulator to mandate" open cable boxes, because the internet is "already forcing cable to adapt."
It's a surprising thing to hear from Wood for a couple of reasons. First of all, basically every tech company has been silent on the FCC's proposal since it was announced. This will likely change very soon, though, as the first round of comments must be filed by today.
But the main reason it's surprising is because Roku is one of the companies that almost everyone has seen as a beneficiary of these rule changes. Were the proposal to go through, any set-top box could tap into a cable subscriber's TV service and offer it right alongside apps like Netflix and YouTube in a custom interface. That means a Roku box would be able to replace your entire cable box, which sounds a) fantastic, and b) like a great way to sell more Rokus.
So it's strange to see Wood coming out against the proposal. He opposes it for a handful of reasons. Wood thinks that the internet is already spurring innovation in the cable industry, it would increase costs for consumers, and tech giants would just use this as another way to expand their reach.
Most of those points are pretty reasonable. Cable providers are starting to offer apps as consumers begin to demand them (although this overlooks that cable boxes are still awful). Cable pricing would likely rise as customers no longer have to rent cable boxes (so it's possible you'd still break even on monthly costs). And a tech giant would very likely make a popular set-top box that makes it way into millions of homes (there's no rebuttal here).
Wood mentions Google's name five times in his op-ed, broadly painting it as the enemy pulling strings to get what it wants. Google, he writes, would use this regulation to break into "consumers’ homes on the back of other people’s content rights with the ultimate goal of offering its own pay TV services."
And that seems to be where Wood really sees the problem. It's not that he necessarily believes Google can make a better set-top box than Roku (see: Nexus Q, Nexus Player); he seems to be arguing that the companies making streaming boxes don't need this leg up. If they want to compete, they should make the deals themselves. Or else just work with the apps already available.
"Soon every piece of video produced for TV will be available to consumers on demand through a variety of competing platforms," Wood writes. "Your cable company will be one option, but certainly not a required way to get your TV content."
That's the key to understanding Wood's disagreement with the FCC. The internet is already starting to push video distribution forward and make streaming boxes like Roku a competitor. He thinks opening up cable in full would just hurt cable companies and help hardware companies that don't want to do the work of getting apps and making deals.
As discussed when the FCC proposal was first released, the idea of opening up cable boxes is a lot more complicated today than it was 10 years ago because of how prominent streaming and apps have become. There's no denying that a world with open cable boxes would lead to some much better cable boxes. But Wood seems to prefer a world in which we aren't worried about cable boxes at all — just streaming boxes.