FCC Video Security Group Targets Biz Requirements

DSTAC Outlines Commercial Scope Of Downloadable Initiative
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Taking a few more steps toward a successor to the CableCARD, an FCC-appointed committee on Tuesday began to come to grips with some of the commercial-facing requirements for a new downloadable security platform for retail device that will work with multiple MVPDs.

Group One, the unit of the Downloadable Security Technology Advisory Committee (DSTAC) that has set to work on those commercial requirements, presented in the morning, outlining some ideas about how it hopes to ensure that a resulting system complies with the same legal requirements that are placed on MVPDs.

The group,comprised of 18 individuals from companies such as Dish Network, Amazon, Comcast, Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, TiVo and Google, is tasked with investigating the successor to the CableCARD, a removable security module that failed to create a vibrant retail market for cable-ready retail video devices, and file its recommendations to the FCC by September 4.

Part of Tuesday’s discussion centered on how the committee is defining the “service” itself, whether that’s simply linear and VOD, or a fuller panoply that includes support for other features such as caller ID to the TV, dynamically ad insertion, customer portals and customer service tools, and metadata associated with video content.

“Things have come a long way” over the past decade in terms of the sophistication of features that are now rolled into MVPD video services, Jay Rolls, SVP and CTO of Charter Communications, said.

Adam Goldberg, principal, AGP/Public Knowledge, took a stab at the baseline consumer requirements, noting that, at a high level, the downloadable system should provide the ability for unaffiliated third parties to build navigation devices for sale at retail in a way that is portable –  meaning a customer can use it with different MVPDs in different parts of the country.  That should also cover an MVPD’s full set of video services, including VOD, PPV and more complicated services that are delivered suing switched digital video technologies, he said.

As another key point, those retail devices should be able to offer their own user interface while also having the ability to access the MVPD’s UI, he said.

“The user interface is one way for there to be choice in the market,” agreed Brad Love, chief technologist at Hauppauge. Retail device makers, Love added, should also have access to MVPD guide data for a subsequent seven-day period.

Discussions also began to center on the baseline security of system itself, with a goal to create “common reliance” between MVPDs and the makers of the devices and licenses that are offered on a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory basis.

There was some debate on whether third parties can disaggregate pieces of an MVPD’s service, because content is typically licensed as s service and must be packaged together per the contracts. While there’s agreement that there should be a strong stance on disaggregation of service, that still needs a clear definition, DSTAC members said. 

Rolls, for example, pointed out that there should be restrictions on relocating channels in the lineup, but Goldberg said it’s possible that “channel numbers might not flow through to a retail environment.”

Robin Wilson, VP, business development at Nagra, said the DSTAC must be mindful of creating a system that is renewable, noting that the downloader itself plays a “critical role” and needs to be recognized as “the Achilles Heel of this system.”  

The committee also picked up the debate surrounding the term “black box,” a point of contention that came up last month at the DSTAC’s first meeting. Is the group talking about separate hardware or a logical chip-level component that would go into a set-top or another video device?

“If it’s polarizing, why use it?” Rolls said of the term, noting that there was a “strong reaction” to the label within his working group.

Alison Neplokh, chief engineer for the FCC’s Media Bureau, said the DSTAC should not focus on the implementation of a so-called black box. “The idea is to speak in terms of requirements,” she said.

“We want to define the ‘what’ before we start working on the ‘how’,” Rolls agreed. “That’s at the root. We want to nail down requirements before we try to solve the development piece of the solution.”

Whatever that ends up being, the result should not be less flexible and capable than what the CableCARD was, Goldberg said. 

Working Group 2 of the DSTAC, which focuses on technology and preferred architectures, is scheduled to present this afternoon.