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The Current State of CableCARD

Without a doubt, one of the most critical features to the success of Windows Media Center has been open support of CableCARD. Once the archaic restrictions were lifted allowing anyone to buy and install a CableCARD tuner into the PC the market opened up. Ceton released their InfiniTV 4 (PCIe, then USB), and SiliconDust and Hauppauge jumped into the game with tuners of their own. We’ve repeatedly called Windows Media Center paired with a multi-tuner CableCARD tuner Media Center paradise. Given that, we love to keep track of what’s going on with the cable industry and their support of CableCARD.

This week the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) released a regulatory filing to the FCC detailing the deployment of CableCARD to consumer devices from the top five cable companies. Details were included from Cablevision, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, and Time Warner Cable, although the report provided summary data of the top 10 companies. According to the report “over 554,000 CableCARDs deployed for use in retail devices by the ten largest incumbent cable operators.” Of course the NCTA, who has fought against the CableCARD rules from their initial drafting, was very quick to point out that since the CableCARD rules have gone into effect those same ten companies have “deployed more than 32,000,000 operator-supplied set-top boxes with CableCARDs.”

Fortunately, not everything written in the document’s 13 pages was pure rhetoric. There was also a lot of interesting data about how many CableCARDs have been deployed, how many of them were installed by technicians vs. the customers doing self installs, and how many truck rolls (service calls resulting in a technician being sent to the customer’s house) were required in the first 30 days to get a CableCARD deployment operational.

The Current State of CableCARD

 

Comcast is the largest cable company in the country, so it makes sense that they would have the most consumer CableCARD systems deployed. Of the companies that reported the self install rate, Comcast fits right in the middle. The number they reported, 29%, is about what I would have expected. It’s not a tiny number, but it’s sufficiently large given that a consumer who did enough research to decide to buy/build their own set-top-box or home theater PC, is probably also reasonably comfortable installing their own gadgets too. The number of truck rolls required also points out some interesting data. Cablevision customers and technicians appear to be doing the best job of getting things working on the first effort where Charter obviously has some work to do! The other interesting piece of data here is Cablevision’s self install percentage. Did 57% of their CableCARD customers really do their own installations? If so, then our respect goes out to those 22,000 customers who, not only installed on their own, where pretty successful at getting it all working.

The Current State of CableCARD

The first thing you’ll probably notice in this chart is that it’s supposed to show data per quarter, but it only has data for quarters two and four. Unfortunately, the NCTA isn’t very consistent with their FCC filings. In fact, Q4 isn’t even technically accurate as the data actually covers September through December of 2011. Putting all that aside, the numbers themselves are interesting. In four of the top five companies CableCARD subscribers grew. In two cases, Cablevision and Cox, the growth was even at a pretty significant percentage. Comcast, on the other hand, dropped more than 36,000 CableCARD subscribers. We don’t have Comcast’s fourth quarter subscriber numbers yet, because they aren’t releasing those details until February 15th. Since we don’t know if Comcast lost video customers for the quarter, the only other assumption that we could make is that many of these CableCARD customers switched to Comcast’s newer Xfinity DVRs.

The Current State of CableCARD

The last chart just shows the number of CableCARDs deployed as a percentage of the company’s total subscribers. Even given the large percent of Comcast customers who switched from using CableCARD in a consumer device, they are still out in front. If Cablevision continues the rate of growth from Q4 into 2012 they will very quickly overtake Comcast.

So despite the cable industry’s ongoing assault against CableCARD, in favor of their own locked-down boxes, I think it’s safe to say that CableCARD is doing well. While we know that home-built home theater PCs don’t make up the majority of these CableCARD installs, we certainly hope to see more people building Windows 7 Media Center boxes equipped with any one of the many CableCARD tuners currently available. We’re also excited to see Ceton going up against Tivo directly with their Q Entertainment Platform.

Souce: NCTA

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About the author

Josh Pollard

Josh has been writing software since his parents brought home their first computer. His love for gadgets and technology eventually spurred a passion for home theater technology. After starting the DMZ, he received Microsoft’s MVP award for Windows Media Center. Even though the beloved home theater PC platform is all but dead he continues to tinker with consumer entertainment technology. He’s a life-long gamer and DIY smart home enthusiast. He co-hosts the Entertainment 2.0 podcast with Richard Gunther and the DMZ’s gaming podcast, Story Players, with Joe DeStazio.