Time Warner Cable is officially taking its first steps toward eliminating the cable box, with streaming video trial launching in New York City and New Jersey.
As rumored a couple weeks ago, the service starts at $10 per month for broadcast channels such ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, while a $20 per month plan tacks on Showtime or Starz. For $50, subscribers get 70 channels including ESPN, AMC, and Comedy Central.
Instead of using a cable box, subscribers stream the video through Time Warner’s app on Roku, iOS, Android, Amazon Fire tablet, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Samsung Smart TVs. In the trial program, subscribers can get a free Roku 3 for a limited time.
Why this matters: Cable boxes tend to be the ugliest part of any living room setup, and they’re expensive. The average U.S. home spends more than $231 per year in rental fees alone, according to a study by Sens. Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal. As cable TV subscriptions fall, Time Warner is one of a handful of cable companies that is starting to look into alternative approaches.
While Time Warner is on the right path with a plan that doesn’t require a clunky cable box, there are a couple points to keep in mind.
Those rates I mentioned above? They’re just 12-month teasers, and the fine print notes that additional charges apply for “equipment, broadcast, sports programming, and other surcharges, taxes & fees.” I can’t find any information on Time Warner’s website about pricing after one year, or the actual monthly cost with all the hidden fees factored in.
Meanwhile, a look at Time Warner Cable’s regular website shows that a standard 70-channel package is $40 per month when delivered via cable box, compared to $50 for streaming, so it seems the company is compensating for the loss of rental fees with a higher-priced plan. Thankfully, the same isn’t true with the basic broadcast channel package, which costs $20 per month with a cable box.
Time Warner Cable also goes out of its way to assure the public (or, more likely, investors) that this is “not an OTT (over-the-top) product or streaming service, like Netflix or Hulu.” As spokesman Andrew Russell wrote in a blog post, the service is only available to Time Warner Cable customers with Extreme or higher Internet service, and the company’s app only works inside the home.
Semantics aside, it’s a service that streams video to any device with the necessary app. The restrictions on who can stream and where they can watch doesn’t change the fact that this is new territory for Time Warner Cable, and a sure sign that cord cutting is having a profound impact on the TV landscape.