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Cord-cutter experiment tests Apple TV, Boxee, Roku and Xbox

updated 04:15 pm EST, Sun January 30, 2011

Families test cord cutting with digital media hubs

Marketing firm Hill Holiday this weekend posted the results of an experiment in cord cutting, or dropping traditional TV for digital media devices. Each family was given one device among several, including the Apple TV, Boxee Box, Google TV, Roku and Xbox 360, and had to stop using traditional TV. The week-long, recorded test (video below) revealed mixed results and showed that none of the companies were entirely where they needed to be, according to the researchers.

Some of the issues centered on the devices themselves. Most, such as the hardware from Apple, Microsoft and Roku, didn't have a true universal content search. Viewers had to enter into a specific app or section to find video from a given source. Boxee's hub has universal search but, until the Vudu update, didn't have some major movie content; it has yet to receive a promised Netflix update. Google TV has universal search but is actively blocked by studios afraid of retaliation from their cable and satellite partners.

The interfaces were also designed heavily around long, "high consideration" video but made it hard to simply jump in and watch a TV show, Hill Holiday said. Network buffering was partly to blame as viewers had to often wait for the content to cache before it could start, although the Xbox 360's Zune Marketplace does have instant-play videos.

Some of the shortcoming however, came from what was seen as as a break in attitude between how most people watch TV and the culture that inspired the designs. The sheer choice without an always-on fallback ironically made using TV too difficult, the families said. In many cases, without the ability to just start watching immediately, some families just gave up on watching TV entirely. Instead of discovering content passively, at random, the testers had to deliberately hunt for material that wasn't necessarily obvious or available.

The study didn't discount the existence of cord cutting and also didn't focus on web viewing, which is often the most commonly cited reason for dropping cable or satellite service. Some, including Electronista writers, are known to have engaged in the practice and can potentially save hundreds of dollars each year even when buying shows directly. Although cable providers have publicly insisted cord cutting doesn't exist, they have often tacitly acknowledged by introducing very low-priced channel packages or by threatening online price hikes for Internet services that compete with incumbent TV.

Hill Holiday nonetheless stressed that a major rethink of Internet video devices was probably necessary as they appeared to take a fundamentally conflicting approach.

"The devices demand a lean-forward involvement with what has been traditionally considered a lean-back medium, and this requirement proved disconcerting to many when it lasted longer than the usual bursts of involvement with their DVRs or video-on-demand channels," the agency said. [via CrunchGear]

by MacNN Staff



    Comment buried. Show
  1. facebook_Maria

    Via Facebook

    Joined: Jan 2011



    This is a complete failure. If a person who uses a landline phone was told to disconnect his home phone and use only the newest technology for 1 week (a cell phone) . . . this individual would be frustrated and be unable to communicate properly.

    * A serious learning curve, which could not be completed in a short period of time
    * New technology needs to be researched and nothing in technology is plug & play. There is a set up.
    * This experiment didn't include the Roku channels Netflix, Hulu+, Amazon, Justin.TV, UStream, Roku Newscaster, Media Fly, and the 180+ channels. (
    * There is no week trial to Apple TV access, there is always a cost.
    * Boxee, Google TV and Apple TV doesn't have access to Netflix

    Today cell phones are common place and many users customize with apps, themes and utilize all the features. But to utilize a cell phone properly users must be comfortable with the technology. Hand a Blackberry to an iPhone user or an iPhone to someone who like querty keyboard phones . . . 1 week is not enough.

    A year and all these people would drop their cable.


  1. Useless Message Poster

    Joined: Dec 1969


    You sure?

    "Boxee, Google TV and Apple TV doesn't have access to Netflix"

    My Apple TV has access to Netflix... It is baked into all V2 Apple TVs...

    Don't know about the other 2...

  1. Ryszard

    Joined: Dec 1969



    Since none of the tested devices were designed, or intended to, replace traditional TV sources, this whole exercise was pointless. All this effort to conclude that these devices need to be used in addition to, not instead of, cable or satellite? Yeah, great! Thanks for the insight...

  1. devospice

    Joined: Dec 1969


    We cut our cord.

    We subscribe to Netflix and Hulu+ and have had a Roku for about a year and a half. Last fall we canceled cable to save money. I don't miss it.

    Now, instead of flipping around 100+ stations grumbling "Man, there's nothing on" I flip through my list of movies and TV shows in my instant queue going "Man, where am I going to find the time to watch all this awesome stuff."

    I'm a very happy cord-cutter.


  1. guillone

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Cut the cord two years ago.

    This article is obviously written to prop up cable.
    I put a set of rabbit ears(you know, hi-def wireless for free) on my HD LCD and get better reception than
    I did from Cox Cable. Their feed crashed everyday. And the video
    quality was spotty and jumpy most of the time.
    Not to mention the obvious; 200+ channels of nothing to watch.
    The amount of multi-media available on the web is over-whelming.
    Who needs cable?
    If it's not on the web, I don't need to see it.
    If the media providers don't want to put it up on the web for free
    viewing with a commercial model,
    I don't need their shows.
    They need me, I don't need them.....
    There is more than enough on ABC, NBC, CBS, Netflix and iTunes to
    absolutely over-run you with shows to watch.
    Hey, cable providers, get over it.
    I don't use you for internet access either, I use DSL; it smokes your garbage.
    Get a clue....
    you've ripped us off long enough.

  1. pairof9s

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Point is well made...

    TV is not always used to view a particular program(s); people often view based on hopping around, or even after they've watched a favorite program. The inability of these devices to allow people to surf through current live programming is a handicap.

    To say this study "fails" by using the phone analogy can easily be countered by a more relevant In the music realm, studios and lagging technology companies (aka - Microsoft) tried to convince consumers that subscription or renting music was a better option for them. Although there has been some success, the overwhelming verdict is that customers continue to want to buy and thus own their music. The tried & true habit did not change simply because the format of music changed.

    Thus, I believe, is the case w/ TV (and as Apple has reluctantly admitted the last few years). While the method to provide programming can change, you best not try & change peoples viewing will mostly likely fail.


  1. Athens

    Joined: Dec 1969


    Buy vs lease...

    Cable TV is basically leasing entertainment. You get what they give you and you pay monthly for it and if you miss it to bad. I like buying my TV shows on DVD then ripping them to my computer to stream to my AppleTV. No commericals, full quality and watch any time. My library is massive with over 400 DVDs and 20 different TV shows. I killed Cable 6 months ago because I was charged a late fee and they wouldn't remove it so they kissed 900 a year worth of business away for a $20.00 late fee. Since then ive watched most of the stuff I used to from the networks websites, and netflix and buying DVDs and will never go back. On average I can buy 30 full seasons of shows for the price I was paying for Cable.

  1. cartoonspin

    Joined: Dec 1969



    It is obvious none of you watch sports. If you did, there is no way you could cut the cord.

  1. studentrights

    Joined: Dec 1969



    The reason I turn the TV off.

    Plenty of competitive action going on in the world without having to make up teams for mindless drones to cheer.

  1. VRSpock

    Joined: Dec 1969


    How hard can it be?

    You click on Netflix, wait about 2 seconds and then either left arrow over about 2 times or down about to times, click the image of the show, then the next episode in the series that you haven't watched yet.

    I get frustrated by getting a list of about 500 channels at my friends house, scrolling through them all and not finding one single thing worth the $80 plus per month that my friends are blowing on cable. They want to go to Netflix....but have to get broadband internet first.

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