DirecTV Says, 'Leave Our Box Out of It'

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DirecTV continues to argue that it shouldn’t be subjected to the same FCC regulations that require cable to let retail CE devices — like TiVos — access programming without a separate set-top box (see DirecTV: Opening Up Set-Tops Would Be Too Costly).

Well, I wouldn’t either: The cable industry has spent more than a billion dollars complying with the FCC’s rules on retail navigation, including an estimated $935 million so far complying with the “integrated set-top” ban which requires most MSO-supplied set-tops to use CableCards. And the result? A mere 443,000 standalone CableCards have been deployed for use in retail devices by the top 10 operators.

That is not a great return on investment.

Now the FCC says it wants to ”spur the development of a retail market for nationally portable video devices that will work across all delivery platforms, including MVPD [multichannel video programming distribution] platforms and broadband-based video platforms” (see FCC Requests Information On How Set-Top Boxes Can Spur Internet Viewing).

DirecTV says that’s a bad idea. “An ‘all-MVPD’ solution would impose unnecessary costs and would impede, rather than

advance, technical innovation,” the DBS operator says in Dec. 15 comments filed with the FCC.

But it’s illogical to impose one set of rules on cable, but not on DirecTV (the U.S.’s #2 biggest TV distributor after Comcast) or Dish Network (#3). This was one of the main messages in NCTA CEO Kyle McSlarrow’s letter to the commission in support of an all-MVPD solution (see One Set-Top to Rule Them All).

And aside from basic fairness, consider this: A device with “all-MVPD” access would be far more attractive to a consumer than just one that could only access cable through tru2way (putting aside for now the question of what the additional cost would be to an HDTV or TiVo).

If a cable-ready HDTV is good, then a cable-satellite-IPTV-ready HDTV would be even better, right? The million-dollar (billion?) question here is how that would come about; the NCTA suggests a cross-industry consortium could produce a solution. DirecTV says any such solution would be “quickly surpassed by newer technology.”

Of course, it all boils down to what the premium for an “all-MVPD” device would be: How many people will pay, say, 20% or more extra for a TV set just for the potential to connect directly to multiple providers’ services at some point in the future?

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