Your cable box is dying — long live the game console!

Brian Crecente

Your cable box is headed for obsolescence.

may not be within the next year, but it could be within the next three
that having a box dedicated to TV programming sitting under or next to
your television will no longer be the norm. Instead, more universally
usable entertainment devices will become the hub for not just video, but
pictures, music and, most likely, gaming.

first baby steps toward a cable box-free family room look like they may
be happening within the coming weeks, with Bloomberg and several tech
sites reporting rumors that Microsoft is on the verge of landing a deal
that will net its Xbox 360 access to some or all of Verizon and
Comcast’s cable television.

But what exactly does that mean — more importantly, what doesn’t it mean? I don’t have a crystal ball, but here’s what I think.

the short term, I think those rumors don’t mean that come this winter
Xbox 360 owners will be flipping through more than 100 channels of
television with their Xbox 360 remote or by using Kinect’s ability to
sense movement and respond to voice commands. I think that’s coming. I’m
even will to say that’s absolutely coming. But I suspect that two of
the biggest cable providers are going to start with something a bit

I’d expect that first taste of Comcast
Xbox 360 owners will get on their console will be something akin to what
iPhone owners already have: The ability to stream those oodles of free
and premium on-demand shows straight to their television.

seems to not only line up with Bloomberg’s report that Microsoft also
expects to sign deals with folks like HBO, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s
Crackle streaming service, NBC Universal’s Bravo and Syfy channels; but
it also fits with the notion that a massive cable provider won’t be
going all-in on this experiment until it tests the waters.

PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 all already have Netflix streaming and the PS3
and Xbox 360 both also have their own video rental service and Hulu.
Adding another way to view video seems like a perfect fit.

the service is a hit, I can see the cable companies starting to shift
their attention to the consoles as cable boxes, but with new consoles
inbound from Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony within the next three years or
so, it’s likely that those efforts would be applied to better

A video game console built not
just for gaming but for entertainment has plenty of advantages. It makes
transitioning from one form of entertainment to the next a much more
seamless operation. Imagine getting a pop-up on your television while in
the middle of playing “Madden NFL 2016,” telling you that the latest
episode of “Psych” just started. A single button-push pauses the game
and drops you straight into the show. Or the opposite. Maybe you’re
watching a show and a friend shoots you an invite asking you to play a
round of “Call of Duty.” A button-push starts recording the show and
drops you into the game.

The constant streaming of
television programming and movies to your TV could also help get gamers
used to the notion of virtual game ownership, something many are still
struggling with. Perhaps over time, the idea of streaming a video game
will feel no less weird than streaming a television show.

also something to be said about the ability to add a set of options and
controls universal to all entertainment. As a parent, I relish the idea
of being able to set a series of parental controls once that will
impact the movies, the pictures, the Web browsing, the TV shows, the
music and the games my son is allowed to experience. While some
television producers may be reluctant to share face time with
mature-rated games, I think that time is passing and strong parental
controls will help the issue along. I also love the idea of having one
controller for everything. They exist now, but this would be hardwired
to the console, so perhaps a bit easier to use.

all of the benefits of universal entertainment, there are also some
things I can’t imagine cable companies ever doing. This is unlikely to
significantly impact pricing because, well, cable companies, like all
companies, like money. I also don’t see this changing the way we
purchase television programming. In other words, having a gaming console
instead of a cable box won’t convince the cable companies that they
should suddenly introduce a la carte channel choices. You’re still most
likely going to be forced into buying a package of channels that include
a wide variety of options you don’t want.

biggest reason I see all of this happening is because it increases the
accessibility of both a gaming device and a cable box for most everyone.
Cable companies get a crack at reluctant TV watchers and a way to
recoup all of those lost eyeballs, game console makers get a crack at
uninitiated gamers, and advertisers get a crack at everyone.


Crecente is managing editor of, a video-game website owned
by Gawker Media. Join in the discussion at


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