TiVo's Love-Hate Tango With Cable Continues

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TiVo loves cable… TiVo loves cable not.

The iconic DVR company’s survival depends in large part on its ability to work effectively with cable and satellite TV providers (see Can TiVo Reinvent Itself?).

But it’s still trying to make a go of the standalone DVR business — and as such, TiVo wants the FCC to force cable operators and other pay-TV providers to make it easier to hook up a TiVo and let a consumer access TV programming as well as broadband-delivered video.

“Complementary and competitive content sources should be permitted to be integrated with MVPD [multichannel video programming distributor] programming even if this disrupts the MVPD’s preferred financial models,” TiVo said in comments filed Dec. 22 with the FCC, responding to the agency’s public notice on “video device innovation.”

TiVo dismisses tru2way as proprietary and notes that CableLabs’ licensing terms for the middleware bars licensees from displaying non-cable programming in the guide.

The ability of cable and satellite TV providers to “leverage control over conditional access into control over design and functionality of competing products has been the prime impediment to true ‘plug-and-play’ and to innovation in video devices,” TiVo said. “Without more vigorous Commission oversight of MVPDs’ abuse of position, bringing a viable product to market that satisfies the technical and licensing requirements imposed by cable and non-cable MVPDs will be next to impossible.”

TiVo wants the FCC to require MVPDs to provide their subscribers a “gateway” device that has “a secure, standardized, open, IP-based interface for consumer audiovisual devices.” This would provide authentication functions and convert the video into an IP format, according to TiVo.

FCC staffers have proposed such a gateway as a way to let consumers access both linear TV and online video, and the CEA and public-interest groups like Public Knowledge also support the gateway concept.

TiVo even suggests the two protocols such an IP gateway would need to support: a gateway advertisement protocol, that could use mDNS (Multicast DNS) from the Zero Configuration Networking project; and a service browsing protocol that could be performed using an HTTP GET on a device’s URL, which would return an XML document formatted according to the conventions of RSS 2.0.

Yes, that sounds a lot simpler than tru2way.

But guess who’s going to foot the bill for the development, manufacturing, distribution and support of these gateway devices? Right: The Comcasts and DirecTVs of the world. The question is, does the consumer benefit outweigh the R&D burden imposed on MVPDs for a “network-agnostic” gateway?

The FCC’s previous attempt at this has flopped. Nearly $1 billion spent on CableCards by MSOs has produced negligible results, with just 456,000 standalone CableCards in use.

Again: the marketplace would provide a far more efficient means of addressing consumer demand for a set-top that unifies TV programming and Internet video content into one interface. After all, TiVo itself is doing this through deals with DirecTV, RCN, Virgin Media and others (although its partnerships with Comcast and Cox don’t currently encompass Internet video).

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