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Obama Signs CableCARD Death Warrant

Mari Silbey
12/5/2014
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President Obama set an end date for the CableCARD mandate Thursday when he signed into law the Satellite Television Extension and Localism Act Reauthorization (STELAR).

Although STELAR is largely focused on allowing satellite operators to stream out-of-market broadcast TV signals to rural areas, it also includes a provision ending the requirement for cable providers to offer set-tops with separable security. The so-called CableCARD rule, which went into effect in 2007, will now expire on December 31, 2015.

By banning integrated security seven years ago, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) hoped to create a competitive retail market for cable TV boxes. Unfortunately, the vast majority of CableCARD modules shipped to date have been embedded directly into operator-supplied set-tops. Few consumer electronics makers have created new CableCARD-compatible devices, and consumer demand for the security cards has been exceedingly minimal.

Instead of CableCARD products, consumer electronics makers have focused on developing IP-based media streamers for online video services. The decision by Congress and the President to end the integrated security ban acknowledges the fact that IP, not legacy TV technology supported by CableCARDs, represents the future of video. (See House Votes to Kill CableCARD Mandate.)


Get the latest updates on new video services and technologies by visiting Light Reading's video services content channel.


The one major exception to the failed CableCARD effort has been TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO). The DVR pioneer continues to sell a popular line of set-tops that use CableCARDs to connect users to pay-TV services. However, even though TiVo fought hard to keep the CableCARD mandate in place, the company has simultaneously created new business opportunities for itself by working directly with cable operators.

As a result, a significant portion of TiVo's revenue now comes from the service provider channel. Plus, TiVo is even collaborating with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) on a security technology that could act as a CableCARD alternative. (See TiVo Makes More Cable Gains and Comcast, TiVo May Ditch the CableCARD.)

On the alternative-technology front, the pay-TV industry has been experimenting with downloadable security as a replacement for hardware-based security for years. Although progress has been slow, the FCC is ready to speed up the process by creating a new technical advisory committee to develop recommendations for software-based security solutions.

On the heels of STELAR, the FCC issued a notice yesterday asking for nominations to this new committee. The agency noted that the committee must be prepared to provide recommendations on downloadable security within nine months of STELAR being enacted -- i.e. three months before the CableCARD mandate is scheduled to end for good.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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Sr.Appli28884
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Sr.Appli28884,
User Rank: Light Beer
10/15/2015 | 4:04:27 PM
Re: CableCARD rules were NOT eliminated by STELAR
You are correct about the legislation ending the integration ban.  However, the integration ban was intended to force the cable companies to provide better support for CableCARD.  Cable companies intentionally did not provide training to their employees on how to install and support CableCARD.  Forcing them to put a CableCARD in every leased box forced them to train their staff on how to support CableCARD.

There was a hope that this would encourage the consumer electronics industry to make more CableCARD devices.  Unfortunately, it did not.  Most consumers don't even know what a CableCARD is.

I use Windows Media Center with CableCARD tuners and XBox360's as extenders at each TV.  It provides me with a whole-home DVR, and saves me more than $80 per month compared to my cable provider's whole-home DVR.  My guide is completely customizable (e.g. I can remove all of the channels that I don't care about).  I can add as much storage space as I want... so I can keep recordings forever if I choose to do so.  My main TV is connected directly to the PC that runs the whole thing... so my main TV can be used to surf the web, watch ANYTHING online, etc.  The bedroom TV's are connected to XBox360's, so they can be used to watch streaming content via any app that is supported by the XBox360... and they can also play games.

The PC in my living room has a BluRay player in it, so it doubles as my BluRay/DVD player... one less box under the TV.  I can also play PC games in my living room.

I can share home-made pictures and videos with every TV in the house.  As long as the video is in a format which is supported by the XBox360, I can download/create and save any video... and watch it on any screen.

THAT's the power of CableCARD and Windows Media Center.  Too bad that not enough people realized this.
seffros
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seffros,
User Rank: Lightning
12/5/2014 | 3:35:54 PM
CableCARD rules were NOT eliminated by STELAR
This is a misunderstanding of the legislation.  It does not eliminate the support or use of CableCARDS.  The CableCARD rules were in effect long before the "integration ban" was adopted. STELAR ends the "integration ban" not CableCARD support.  As you note, the theory was that by forcing the cable operators to include CableCARDs even in leased devices that didn't need or use them, that would somehow spur the retail market.  It was a total flop. The only thing that happened is that consumers wound up paying more for those leased boxes without getting any benefit. That's the rule that was eliminated. The notion that CableCARDS were somehow a viable retail alternative ended long ago, not by law, but when DBS boxes were exempted and television set manufacturers saw no market for including CableCARDS in their sets. The CableCARD rules themselves, however, live on.
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