For many years, a battle was fought as consumer electronics companies competed to create their own cable boxes. However, this move was opposed by cable companies, who wished to continue selling their own boxes directly to the consumer. This epic battle was fought in the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) across multiple presidential administrations, with President Barack Obama declaring his support in 2016 for an FCC effort to give consumers choice in the matter. However, the Trump Administration abandoned that effort in 2017.
In recent years, more and more home entertainment viewing has migrated to streaming services, while cable boxes have become more modernized. And now there’s a report of possibly big changes in how cable is delivered.
Protocol reported Friday that Comcast is in talks with major TV manufacturers in order to make its X1 and Flex systems available directly on smart TVs. Such a move would, per the report, “turn the software running on its set-top boxes into an operating system for smart TVs.”
The talks began at CES in January and have continued, the report said. Comcast had already been pitching X1 to other cable operators. X1 has slowly gone from a cable interface to something more resembling a TV operating system, and the company has since launched Flex, which is streaming hardware similar to that of Roku.
The X1 box, which debuted in 2012, has been better-received by consumers than most previous cable boxes.
“A Comcast operating system on your next connected TV may sound like nightmare fuel, but its X1 software has the only pay-TV box UX that I’ve seen people compliment,” journalist Rob Pegoraro said on Twitter.
The negotiations come as Comcast has been bleeding cable subscribers, with more than 800,000 customers cutting the cord in the first two quarters of 2020 amid the pandemic. Granted, Comcast still remains by far the largest cable company in the United States. But providing its X1 and Flex systems directly in smart TVs would give Comcast a new revenue stream, while also putting its software in front of more eyeballs.
The report did not say which manufacturers Comcast has spoken with. As of June, per Statisa data, Samsung had the lead in U.S. market share, in terms of TVs owned, with 30%, followed by LG, Vizio, Sony and TCL. However, in terms of shipments, TCL overtook Samsung to take the number one spot in 2019, per IDC.
It’s unclear how X1 would work on those TVs, as each of the major brands already has an existing operating system. Samsung uses its own Tizen, Vizio uses SmartCast, TCL and Hisense, mostly, use Roku TV, and LG uses webOS. Amazon and Google have also sought to develop such systems.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.