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Netflix Is Coming to U.S. Cable Boxes, However Improbable That Sounds

3 minute read

I realize this doesn’t make sense, except that when you think about it, it kind of does: Netflix, the streaming video service synonymous with the phrase “cord-cutting” (where cord-cutting refers explicitly to cable/satellite nixing) will soon be available through cable boxes. Yep, the same cable boxes the company’s supposedly been squaring off against.

The companies involved in the deal are Atlantic Broadband (offers service in Florida, Maryland, Delaware, South Carolina and Central Pennsylvania), Grande Communications (offers service in Texas) and RCN (offers service in Boston, New York, Eastern Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C. and Chicago). The deal will effectively load Netflix into those companies’ same set-top boxes their customers use to watch live television. According to the press release, the Netflix app will operate through TiVo, and the point is to allow customers using both cable boxes and a second set-top box to watch Netflix, to consolidate those devices (and remote control mechanisms).

You’ll still need a full Netflix subscription: there’s no mention of a discount for cable subscribers here, which makes a certain amount of sense. On the one hand, cable providers want to make their TiVo cable boxes more appealing by rounding out their offerings, and what better way than to shoehorn the enemy into that medley? At the same time, doing so risks encouraging people who might not have to engage the service, a transition that, future content deals and customer tastes depending, could eventually nix the cable subscription component from the equation. Leaving the subscription price as-is ensures a certain pricing threshold, while at the same time allowing the cable providers to boast about supporting the service.

“Our view has long been that the marriage of linear television and streaming over-the-top (OTT) TV is the future of television, and Netflix has clearly emerged as a must-have OTT service,” said TiVo President and CEO Tom Rogers. I’m not sure that’s entirely right — that the future is a marriage of the two, and case closed. The immediate future, perhaps, and that might do for now, but with previously unthinkable deals like this recent HBO/Amazon bombshell going down, and assuming there really is increasing consumer demand for a la carte programming, this sounds more like a transitional compromise than a future-proof one to me.

Netflix already does cable-handholding in the U.K. via Virgin Media (and TiVo), by the way, but this would mark the first time it’s done so in the U.S.


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Write to Matt Peckham at matt.peckham@time.com