According to Bloomberg, there are 224 million cable TV set-top boxes (STBs) currently deployed in the U.S. Many of these are constantly humming and over 47 million STBs are filled with outdated CableCARD technology that’s anything but “green.” In fact, a recent FierceCable story stated that cable boxes are the second biggest energy suckers in homes. Not only is this damaging to the environment, but it’s also costing consumers more in energy costs.
However, as living room staples, STBs aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Experts predict that the number of cable boxes will grow 29 percent by 2040 in the U.S. alone, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and more STBs mean increased energy consumption.
So what do we do about it?
There are several ways to reduce STB power consumption. In fact, in late 2012 15 industry-leading multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and equipment manufacturers took a voluntary approach and launched a multi-step initiative that aimed to save $1.5 billion in annual residential electricity costs and reduce carbon emissions by the equivalent of four power plants each year. The initiative included tactics like only producing STBs that meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR 3.0 (ESv3) efficiency levels and utilizing new technology to enable STBs to run at a reduced power level when they aren’t in use.
The agreement, which is detailed in this National Cable and Telecommunications Association report, also pledges that participants will support ongoing research to solve the problem of high STB energy consumption. Participating companies developed a dedicated Energy Lab to continue research and also committed to regular industry meetings on the subject.
Another simple change we can make immediately to reduce STB energy consumption beyond the strategies already in place is to remove an outdated, but still required, piece of technology inside STBs called CableCARD.
This strategy to remove the outdated CableCARD component is guaranteed to reduce the impact STBs have on the environment as it doesn’t rely on consumer behavior whatsoever. CableCARDs, which are comprised of PCMCIA cards loaded with conditional access (CA) software, were created as a response to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 1996 mandate for separating security from the set-top itself. Since it was implemented almost two decades ago, CableCARD technology has remained completely unchanged despite the fact that the cable industry is virtually unrecognizable. Removing CableCARD from STBs will have numerous benefits; decreasing energy consumption is just one of them.
While it’s important to note that there isn’t a “one size fits all solution” that will completely solve the STB energy consumption issue, there are many actionable steps that can be taken throughout the industry to contribute to a more energy efficient process.
STBs are critical components in most of our TV viewing lives, so it’s important that we do what we can to reduce their “environmental footprint” as much as possible.