TiVo Wants Cable to Throw More Money at CableCards

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Should the FCC impose a sweeping new regulation concerning CableCards that would benefit less than 0.001% of all cable customers?

Or would it be adding a pointless, expensive requirement on the back of a failed policy — one that the FCC is actually phasing out?

TiVo and the Consumer Electronics Association are now lobbying the FCC make the cable industry adopt an IP backchannel for switched digital video communications to replace the SDV “tuning adapters” that MSOs have been giving TiVo users to use free of charge (see TWC Flicks On SDV In NYC). That’s despite unanimous agreement, including from the FCC, that CableCard rules haven’t achieved the commission’s goals of establishing a “competitive” retail market.

Right — this is the tuning adapter that cable developed in conjunction with TiVo (see Cable to Offer Switched Digital Video to TiVo Subs). In 2007, TiVo CEO Tom Rogers said the company was “gratified that the cable industry has agreed to work quickly to develop a solution” to allow DVRs to access switched digital video.

But in comments filed Monday in response to the FCC’s proposal to revised CableCard rules, the company said, “TiVo did not agree that the Tuning Adapter should be the solution for all future retail navigation devices. A retail device market cannot be created if consumers who buy their own devices still have to rely on an operator-supplied set-top box.”

Why change horses in midstream, especially as the FCC is looking at a new “AllVid” requirement that would supersede CableCards? (See FCC AllVid Rule Would ‘Ban The Set-Top As We Know It’: Analyst.) Because an IP backchannel would be a “more economical and scalable solution” and “more appealing and convenient for consumers,” according to TiVo.

So let’s do the math here. There are 42.6 million digital cable subscribers in the U.S., out of a total of about 61.8 million basic video subs.

As of mid-June, cable operators had deployed 520,000 standalone CableCards for use TiVos or other devices — representing less than 1% of all subscribers (see Operators’ CableCard Box Tally Tops 21 Million). Of that group, the cable industry has given out free tuning adapters, which let those TiVos access switched digital video channels, to 31,600 customers… or around 0.0005% of all cable TV subscribers.

SDV has been widely rolled out by Cablevision Systems, Cox and Time Warner Cable, with Comcast expecting to start ramping up later this year (see Comcast Tees Up Switched Video Rollouts). Switched digital video conserves bandwidth by delivering linear TV channels only when a subscriber in a given neighborhood requests them — but SDV isn’t compatible with one-way CableCard devices; hence the need for the tuning adapters from Cisco and Motorola.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association, in its own reply comments Monday, pointed out that developing and supporting an “IP backchannel” for TiVos and other devices would impose a new, time-consuming and complex requirement, only on cable. And for the benefit of very, very few customers.

“Although TiVo and CEA have elsewhere recognized that technology mandates stifle innovation, they seek to impose a new mandate exclusively on cable: to engineer a new Internet pathway to cable headends that will handle SDV signaling from third-party devices, in lieu of the Tuning Adapters that are working now over secure cable plant,” NCTA said.

NCTA also reiterated its position that the integrated set-top ban should be eliminated (see NCTA Answers Critics of CableCard Stance and NCTA To FCC: End Set-Top Integration Ban).

Also chiming in against requiring a new IP backchannel for CableCard devices to access SDV were Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cisco Systems.

The NCTA cited comments from Arris — which now owns Digeo, producer of the Moxi DVR — saying that a move to an IP backchannel would be expensive, disruptive and distracting and that such a change “risks doing more harm than good” because the SDV tuning adapters are working.

“There may well be creative IP solutions and technological designs for interactive services, but they should be addressed for all MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] on an AllVid basis in the NOI [notice of inquiry], not in this short-term cable-centric proceeding,” NCTA said.

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