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Cable companies are replacing ancient cable boxes with tiny, cheaper new gadgets

<i>Courtesy Charter Communications</i><br/>Cable companies are trying to catch up with the times and now want you to replace your clunky set-top cable boxes with sleek
Courtesy Charter Communications
Cable companies are trying to catch up with the times and now want you to replace your clunky set-top cable boxes with sleek

By Nathaniel Meyersohn, CNN

New York (CNN) — The clunky old cable box doesn’t make sense anymore. Big, ugly, and heavy, they seem to have about as much place working with a modern TV as a DVD player. Cable companies are trying to catch up with the times, though, and now want you to replace your clunky set-top cable boxes with sleek, Apple TV-like streaming devices – gadgets that could save customers money.

Comcast and Charter, the two largest US cable providers, have unveiled the Xumo Stream Box for their Spectrum and Xfinity customers. The Xumo device offers live TV channels through the companies’ apps, as well as hundreds of streaming platforms like Netflix, Disney+, Hulu and Max. (CNN and Max share the same parent company.)

The Xumo is part of a “can’t beat ‘em so join ‘em” strategy cable companies are using to defend themselves from the onslaught of cord cutting.

Cable companies are scrambling to respond to rapidly declining cable subscriptions and the fragmented media environment, in which TV fans are able to get shows from dozens of competing services. In the age of streaming apps, cable companies are trying to retain television customers by making it simpler for them to browse different apps and watch live TV.

Xumo is one step in cable companies’ broader strategy to combine live TV with streaming – essentially rebundling streaming services like the old cable bundle. Xumo lets customers flip through channels like old-fashioned channel surfing on cable, and it’s these companies’ answer to Roku, Google and other smart TVs.

The Xumo remote includes a number pad, allowing customers to browse live TV by channel. Xumo also has voice control, unlike traditional cable boxes.

Spectrum and Xfinity customers can still keep their old-fashioned cable boxes, but new customers will receive small Xumo devices unless they request a set-top box.

Moving from a cable box to Xumo will save cable customers money. Beginning January 30, Spectrum’s cable box rental fee will rise to $12.50 per month, from $10.99. A Xumo streaming box costs $5 a month to rent or $60 to own outright.

It’s a shift for cable companies that long relied on trying to get households to add as many set-top cable boxes in their homes as possible. But Americans are now watching more streaming TV than cable.

Thirty-two percent of all TVs in the US have a set-top box, compared to 52% in 2018, according to Bruce Leichtman, who runs a media research firm.

“Cable operators are perhaps the most logical players to aggregate all the streaming services onto one physical platform, sold for a single price,” Craig Moffett, a media analyst at MoffetNathanson, said in an email.

Eventually, Xumo could offer fully integrated search options to customers across all streaming platforms, if the streamers ever agree to it, he said.

It could be a while before the ancient cable box completely disappears, however.

“It will take a long time for those boxes to completely turn over,” Charter chief financial officer Jessica Fischer said last month.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

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