As we and others have reported, cable operators are exploring the idea of negotiating streaming rights into their carriage agreements with cable networks. If that becomes a reality, what would it mean for consumers? Giving cable companies another service to charge for can’t be good for viewers, right? Well, it’s not quite that simple. Here are the upsides:
—Consumers could finally get a universal set-top box that converts internet video into high-quality TV viewing. People who want to watch internet video on TV now are faced with few (not great) options: get a simple converter from the local Radio Shack that is clumsy and often offers pixelated viewing, use a media center PC, or rely on Boxee, a start-up that recently had Hulu content pulled from its service. If cable companies were to control much of the network content on the internet, they would probably stick a chip in their set-top boxes that would allow for a more user-friendly format for watching online video on a TV. And people could use it to watch not just Lost or Friday Night Lights, but everything from video news clips on MSN to user-generated content from YouTube. The cable companies could also add web-browsing features as well.
—There would be more programming available. Currently, the cable networks make only a subset of their shows available on Hulu — typically, only the most recent four or five episodes of a given series — and for a limited window. If the cable companies and networks can find a way to make more money from online video, they’re more likely to offer entire seasons, or even entire libraries from previous seasons, like ABC.com now does. The caveat: You’d have to be a subscriber of the cable provider to get the extra content, and would likely have to pay an incrementally larger subscription fee.