CBS, Viacom, 21st Century Fox, others support pay-TV's 'Ditch the Box' proposal, albeit with caveats

A handful of the world's top programmers said they support the pay-TV industry's "Ditch the Box" proposal for opening up set-top boxes – however they urged the FCC to ensure that their own apps on a set-top box be given "parity" with pay-TV providers' apps.

"The MVPD apps plan [dubbed "Ditch the Box"] offers a constructive foundation for providing consumers with an alternative to leasing set-top boxes, subject to certain additional protections for programmers and the clarification of particular details," wrote executives from Time Warner, 21st Century Fox, Viacom, CBS and Scripps Networks Interactive in a filing with the FCC. "Any final rules must ensure parity for programmer apps and provide program networks with enforceable contractual rights against competitive device manufacturers and MVPDs. The companies stated that they look forward to working closely with the Commission and MVPDs as the proceeding moves forward."

The executives from the programmers met with FCC officials last week to discuss the set-top box issue, which has blossomed into a major topic for the pay-TV industry.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler kickstarted the issue earlier this year with his "Unlock the Box" proposal, which seeks to force pay-TV operators to open their set-top boxes to services from other providers. The pay-TV industry balked at the proposal, and last month pitched the FCC with an open, apps-based alternative to the agency's set-top proposal they dubbed "Ditch the Box." The scheme would require major pay-TV operators to enable their services through apps based on open HTML5 standards, allowing customers to access their TV service through a range of third-party devices. 

And it appears pay-TV's "Ditch the Box" proposal is gaining steam, with a range of players including Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel voicing concerns with Wheeler's initial "Unlock the Box" pitch.

However, some continue to voice concerns about the "Ditch the Box" proposal. In a separate FCC filing, the Consumer Video Choice Coalition said that the pay-TV industry's "Ditch the Box" proposal "constructively demonstrates that the Commission's proposed timeline for expecting major MVPDs to achieve IP-based delivery through open and interoperable standards is feasible." However, the group – which includes executives from Public Knowledge, TiVo and other companies – raised a number of concerns including what kinds of programming would be allowed, exactly how the apps-based system would work, and how such apps might be licensed.

However, the Consumer Video Choice Coalition noted that the various set-top proposals could well pave the way for a possible solution that would meet the FCC's goals of opening the set-top box industry.

For more:
- see this Multichannel News article
- see these two FCC filings

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