The grudge match between cable television companies and Internet video services like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Hulu is giving way to grudging cooperation, with cable companies beginning to deliver Web shows over the same set-top boxes that carry their TV programs.
On Thursday, RCN Corp., which provides cable service in a few areas of Boston, said it will soon provide direct access to Hulu. RCN customers who pay for a separate Hulu subscription will no longer need a separate Internet television device like Google Inc.'s Chromecast or Amazon.com's Fire TV. Instead, they'll be able to tune in Hulu programs through their cable remote.
It's not RCN's first Internet video offering. The company began providing access to Netflix in 2014, and in February of this year, the company added the HBO Go Internet channel.
Also on Thursday, Charter Communications Inc., which recently acquired Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks in a $60 billion deal, said it's planning to integrate Netflix and Hulu into its network. Meanwhile, Comcast Corp. last month began providing direct access to Crackle, an Internet TV network operated by Sony Corp.
Greg Ireland, a TV industry analyst for IDC Corp. of Framingham, said the cable industry is beginning to realize that video streaming isn't as big a threat to their business as they once feared. He noted that despite concerns about "cord cutting," the great majority of those who use streaming services like Hulu or Netflix hang on to their cable subscriptions as well. "This isn't an either-or proposition for most consumers," Ireland said.
In fact, pushing Internet TV through the cable box could help cable companies retain their subscribers. If an Internet TV viewer must switch from the cable box to a separate device, there's a chance he won't come back. Instead, said Ireland, "the cable provider can create a nice simple single-user experience," giving the subscriber a reason to stick around.
For Chris Fenger, RCN's chief operating officer, it's a simple matter of keeping subscribers satisfied. "We will provide the best way to watch this content on their biggest screen in their homes," Fenger said. "The point to us is to keep the relationship with the customer."