Comcast vs. Cablevision: Different takes on set-tops

Cisco Explorer DVRIt doesn't take much research to realize most MSOs are joined at the hip on just about everything. Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) and Cablevision Systems (NYSE: CVC), according to executives talking during their respective quarterly earnings conferences, both love what they can do with emerging IP-based devices like Apple's iPad connected to their home entertainment stream.

Cablevision has "three separate applications for use with the Apple iPad," said COO Tom Rutledge; Comcast Chairman-CEO Brian Roberts gushes like a fountain when he thinks of all the things that "a real technological shift with mobile devices, with WiFi and with tablets and pricing" will do for his company's bottom line.

The two follow different forks in the road, though, when it comes to set-top boxes. Comcast continues to roll them out in high volumes and with advanced features. CFO Michael Angelakis said the company rolled out 781,000 advanced high definition and/or digital set-tops in the fourth quarter and now has an average of 2.5 boxes per household.

Cablevision, if you intuit from what Rutledge had to say, can't get away from the things fast enough. The remote server DVR (RS-DVR) the MSO is touting allows it to stop buying set-tops with DVRs. A PC-to-TV media relay, OptimumLink, will let customers "view what is on or available to their PC on their television without the need for a new set-top box;" and the combined goal of the company is to keep taking functionality out of boxes to drive costs down.

"The issue is what kind of boxes we buy. Our CPE cost per box is going to come down; whether it will get to $50 or not, I'm not sure," Rutledge said. "If we stayed at historic capabilities in boxes the cost curve would move us toward that number."

For more:
- listen to Comcast's quarterly webcast
- and Cablevision's webcast

Related articles:
Cablevision Systems blames retrans for Q4 subscriber losses; posts higher profits
Discipline, smart investments to guide Comcast in 2011
Comcast unveils Android app, looks to stream to iPads

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