Son of CableCard

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In a world…

Oppressed by lame and expensive set-top boxes…

From cable, satellite and telco providers…

Only one technology can set Americans free: AllVid!

I have to give the FCC props for coming up with a snappy name — AllVid — for what was previously a terrible, eight-syllable mouthful: “all-MVPD solution.”

Unfortunately that may be the best thing about AllVid (see FCC’s ‘AllVid’ Gateway Would Require Six IP Video Streams).

As I’ve written previously, having the FCC specify the exact technical details of how pay-TV providers deliver their service represents an undue tax on all their customers (see FCC Wants Its ‘Stupid’ Gateway Everywhere Starting in 2013).

Why is this a bad proposal? Simply put: It will impose significant costs on cable, satellite and telcos, which will potentially have to re-engineer their video-delivery platforms in fundamental ways. It could involve a complete overhaul of the IPG. It would definitely slow down and/or derail their development of new features.

An AllVid “set-back” device or gateway, as sketched out by the FCC’s notice of inquiry, would not be cheap.

You want a gateway that could deliver six HD streams in the home? I would point out that the three-tuner Moxi HD DVR system is $799. Yes, that’s a retail MSRP not a bill of materials, and it includes a 500-GB disk that an AllVid thing wouldn’t necessarily need. But clearly you’re not going to get an HD six-tuner AllVid gateway for anything close to 100 bucks a pop.

And to what end?

To serve the interests of consumer-electronics manufacturers, who have convinced the FCC that a wonderful world of innovative, inexpensive video-enabled gadgets and gizmos would magically flourish as a result of all-MVPD portability. Even though there’s been only evidence to the contrary (see TiVo Subscriber Losses Accelerate In 2009).

For cable operators, who’ve spent more than $1.2 billion complying with the CableCard rules, the silver lining of AllVid is that it applies to satellite and telco as well — so MSOs won’t be at a competitive disadvantage in complying with whatever shakes out.

Indeed, the burden on DirecTV and Dish Network would probably be disproportionately higher than on cable or telcos. Here’s an excerpt on this point from the AllVid notice of inquiry:

[G]iven the DBS industry’s inherently one-way distribution model, DISH Network and DIRECTV have indicated that home gateway devices for DBS would need to include hard drives for video caching to allow their subscribers to view VOD programming instantly and might need to include additional “intelligence.”

Let me reach for another metaphor about why AllVid is a bad idea. Tell me if this one is a stretch!

We haven’t seen much innovation in movie-theater seats over the years. Yeah, theater owners have put in some cushier models, stadium seating and jumbo-size drink holders.

But c’mon — where the heck is the innovation in movie-theater seats? Maybe I want a different color. Or Corinthian leather.

Or, how cool would it be to have a WiFi-enabled seat so I could maybe listen to the soundtrack on a headset as I’m making a quick trip to the concession stand! Or — sweeeeeetness — a Hammacher Schlemmer massaging chair.

My modest proposal: The U.S. government should force movie theaters to let customers buy their own seating, and force theater owners to conform to the same seating specs. That would drive down prices of third-party theater seats (which, no joking, seem very expensive) and consumers could take their own personalized seats to any theater in any state.

Sound good? Well, sort of. The question is whether the costs of this regulation would justify the benefits. I think that would be a “no.”

So what do you think? Is AllVid the way to go? Is there a better answer? I think one thing is certain: There aren’t any cheap and simple ways to get to the all-MVPD portability the FCC hopes for.

To me, the AllVid rules should first strive to do no harm — by not forcing TV operators to fundamentally redesign their video-delivery infrastructure.

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