Laybourne on Network-DVR ‘Issues’

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Atlanta -- Recording shows for television viewers on servers inside a cable network creates “gigantic copyright issues,” one of the longest-standing developers of new programming for cable-system operators said Sunday.

Geraldine Laybourne, former program manager and then president of Nickelodeon, currently cofounder of Oxygen and co-chair of this year's National Show here, said after the show's opening session that large entertainment companies are working on a legal strategy that could establish exclusive rights to determine how their works are distributed through cable networks.

“I think there are gigantic copyright issues that programmers are dealing with right now,” Laybourne said in a press conference after the session, adding, “We always expect to be paid” for the use or reuse of programs that appear on television that Oxygen, for instance, has produced.

The only cable system operator to date to announce plans to allow its customers to record programs they see on digital recorders located at an equipment headend or data center within a network is Cablevision Systems Corp., based in Bethpage, N.Y.

“We've conducted a thorough analysis. We are confident that this superior approach is on solid legal footing, and we are moving ahead,” Cablevision vice president of media relations Jim Maiella said.

The reason? Customers -- individuals -- decide what to record, not the cable-system operator. And the cable-system operator -- Cablevision, in the first case -- will store as many copies of a show as there are individuals asking for a recording. There will not be shared recording.

This may be considered safe under federal law regarding “fair use” of intellectual property that a consumer has purchased.

Coincidentally, Cablevision chief operating officer Tom Rutledge is Laybourne's co-chair for this year's cable show. He began the day's opening session on stage with Laybourne. He did not appear with her after the session, in the press conference.

Cable-system operators would like to see recording of shows take place on servers in their headends. Rutledge touted the approach because it means Cablevision won't have to install digital-video recorders or set-top boxes with DVRs in hundreds of thousands of customers' homes; the service can work with existing digital-cable boxes, and the company can maintain and upgrade services easier and avoid truck rolls.

Indeed, before Laybourne spoke, Robert Miron, CEO of Advance/Newhouse Communications, said at the same press conference that the network-based DVR was logical and desirable.

“I think technologically, it's a perfect idea, and I'd love to see it come to fruition,” he said.
Another programmer, John Hendricks, founder and chairman of Discovery Communications Inc., said he was comfortable with network-based recording “if the consumer is in control.” What worries him are outside parties that could “intervene” in uncharted ways.

“We are very concerned about a third party intervening in a fashion where they could manipulate content and create ‘virtual channels,’” Hendricks said, changing content in “a way we didn't intend.”

Laybourne would not put a time frame on when she expected to see the launch of a legal challenge to the network recorder, if it's coming.

But she said concern about the network-based DVR is widespread in the entertainment industry. “The lawyers at all of our companies,” she added, “are trying to figure out a strategy. This is a new announcement and it's a very big change.”

She said she doesn't know what the legal options are, but “the big entertainment-company lawyers are probably going to be” the ones that would get active.

“The companies that have it all,” she added. “ The Viacoms, the MTVs, the Paramounts. They have it all. They'll be the ones that figure it out.”

Will Oxygen act in concert? “We'll be listening,” she told Multichannel News.

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