More set-top rapprochement?

There have been signs lately that cable operators and over-the-top set-top box makers have been eyeing each other with a bit more interest and a bit less loathing. Last month the cable industry announced plans to establish a new research center in the hear of Silicon Valley under the direction of CableLabs. Microsoft has experimented with integrating linear TV service into the Xbox 360 game console through deals with Verizon FiOS and Comcast and some analysts have speculated that the next version of Xbox, due in late 2013, will include a TV tuner, making it capable of replacing the traditional MSO-supplied set-top box.

Comments by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts about Apple in the new issue of Fortune are likely to further fuel speculation about a coming set-top symbiosis between pay-TV services and OTT platforms.

Here’s what Roberts said when asked about the growing complexity of watching TV for the average viewer:

Everything we could learn from what Apple has done so well is how to take really complicated things and make them simple, make them fun, make them beautiful and easy. As I think about where I’d like to see us go, it is absolutely to take this overwhelming amount of content choices — now with the Internet so many more choices — and make them personalized, make them easy to interact with and have anytime on any device.

Earlier this year, Apple was reported to be in talks with cable operators about an integrated set-top box. It’s not clear whether those talks led anywhere. But it’s clear from Roberts’ comments that he’s aware of the value Apple could bring to the TV viewing experience independent of any content it actually brings to the table.

That’s not a bad starting point for a constructive conversation.