People hate the cable industry almost as much as they once loathed phone companies. And among the many objections people have is the cable box, so much so that the FCC went after the cable box to kill it for good. While that didn’t work out, a media app called Plex has introduced a new feature that not only offers a workaround for your cable box, but also means you can record your shows and watch them how you want.
Plex has been around for a while, and it’s a neat idea. It’s what your IT guy at work would call a “unified communications” setup; you give it all the video you use, it arranges it in an easy to use interface, and you can log into it from anywhere, on any device, and watch your stuff. But, the addition of a live TV mode, available when you drop $5 a month on Plex Pass, means you can now use it as your cable box.
As Gizmodo notes, the setup requires some upfront investment, and you can’t cut out the equipment rental fees completely. First, you need to ensure your cable company will rent you a CableCARD, a small device that’s basically the guts of your cable box. It’s usually $1 or $2 a month. You’ll need something to slot it in that’s compatible with Plex, but, once you’ve got it set up, you can send back your cable box. At $12 a month, or $144 a year on average, this’ll generally pay for itself within two years.
It also means, effectively, you can watch the cable you’re paying for anywhere, and anybody who has your Plex password can do the same. That raises some questions, especially for broadcasters. Sports fans are all too familiar with blackouts, for example, where a local market doesn’t get to see a game because the stadium doesn’t move enough tickets. Plex would theoretically offer a way around those blackouts, something that sports leagues would be less than enthused about. It would also make the ongoing tactic of cable blackouts less effective; if people can just get a buddy’s Plex account and watch Food Network that way, both cable networks and cable channels lose a lot of leverage.
Either way, though, it’s clear that the days of using cable to limit how people watch TV are almost done. Plex is just the canary in the coal mine; sooner or later, enough customers are going to ask why they should pay so much and get so little from their cable provider in return.