Home Is Boxee’s Live TV Dongle Enough to Kill Cable?

Is Boxee’s Live TV Dongle Enough to Kill Cable?

The capability to watch live TV that was rumored to be coming to the Boxee Box last week is indeed real and the $50 USB dongle required to do it will start shipping early next year, the company confirmed today.

The Live TV stick, as they’re calling it, is simply a way to build a bridge between your Boxee Box and an HD antenna (sold separately), which of course can pick up all the basic local channels in HD for free. This allows viewers to enjoy their Web-based streaming content and jump over to live TV broadcasts without fiddling with different inputs on their TV sets.

Is This Enough to Challenge Cable?

Boxee is very deliberately marketing this move by framing it as a call-to-arms against cable companies and their high-priced subscriptions. As Boxee CEO Avner Ronen points out, nearly 90% of the most-watched shows from last year were broadcast on networks like NBC, Fox, CBS and ABC. For the few popular shows that are only available on cable, Ronen argues, consumers are paying way too much.

Is the Live TV stick enough to make the Boxee Box palatable for mainstream consumers? It certainly makes it a more attractive option, but it probably won’t kill the cable subscription anytime soon. Sports fanatics, for instance, will probably stick with the myriad viewing options cable offers them.

Plus, there’s still a bunch of content that isn’t readily available outside the cable box. Take HBO. The premium channel offers a way to watch online, and it even works on set top boxes like Boxee’s. But in order to use HBO Go, one needs to subscribe to a cable or satellite provider.

It’s worth noting that Google TV set-top boxes support live TV viewing as well, and the first generation of those devices haven’t exactly flown off the shelves.

Consumers Are Moving Away From Cable, But Slowly

Still, the number of U.S. cable subscribers has begun to slowly erode, and that trend is expected to continue. Part of the reason may be a tight economy, but as Ronen points out, it’s also because viewer’s habits and expectations have changed significantly, thanks in large part to services like Hulu, Netflix, Vudu and YouTube. No longer can many consumers justify paying as much as $100 per month for a selection of content in which they’re mostly disinterested.

So, things are certainly moving toward a world in which bloated cable packages are less of a must-have for consumers, and the Web offers an increasingly viable alternative, perhaps coupled with broadcast content and maybe even basic cable. We’ll see what Apple has to offer in this space, probably next year. If their track record with tablets, smartphones and MP3 players is any indication, Apple could turn television on its head, depending on how they disruptive they are in designing and marketing the product.

For a certain segment of consumers, solutions like Boxee are a great fit, and upgrades like this only make them more attractive. It may not wreck the cable business overnight, but we suspect that as long as the set-top box and smart TV manufacturers keep innovating and making the cord easier to cut, the cable TV business as we know it won’t be around forever.

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