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Time Warner Cable will let you junk your set-top box next year

TWC's incoming chief executive said the cable company is removing obstacles over the next year that keep your preferred over-the-top device, like Roku or Xbox, from replacing its set-top boxes entirely.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Time Warner Cable customers, if you've ever dreamed of chucking your set-top box, that vision is on track to becoming reality soon.

Chief Operating Officer Robert Marcus, who will become the cable company's chief executive next year, said at a conference Wednesday that Time Warner Cable should, within about a year, be able to let over-the-top devices replace set-top boxes.

"Over the course of the next year or so, we will be knocking down some of the current obstacles that are in the way of not just having the TWC TV experience be a complementary service to the delivery of video via the leased set-top box but also a replacement service so that customers can have nothing but a Roku device or an Xbox and get their video experience," he said at a Bank of America Merrill Lynch media tech conference in Los Angeles. The company has 15 million set-top boxes deployed.

The TWC TV app already pipes in live programming via devices like Roku or Xbox or on Samsung Smart TVs, but they were available as ancillary options in other rooms in the house.

To get Time Warner Cable's programming without a set-top box, customers would need to be both video and Internet subscribers in order to authenticate that the video being watched is what is being paid for, a company representative said.

But Time Warner Cable is about two-thirds of the way through a process ensuring that its local programming is encoded so it can be delivered via apps, according to Marcus. It's working on making sure the service would still comply with regulations like providing closed captioning and emergency alerts and with sports contracts that black out certain sports in certain markets, he said.

It takes the cable company one step further down the road toward being an app-delivered service. Others are traveling that path too: Comcast and Fios apps are available for respective subscribers of those cable services on Xbox for example.

However, Marcus said that going the route of becoming a true over-the-top business -- one that provides out-of-home access to programming as well, without the need for any equipment on the customer's premises -- wasn't in Time Warner's game plan.

"At this point, we don't really aspire to delivering an over-the-top service," he said, adding that he was skeptical that there was a viable business in "simply being a retailer of somebody else's video."