Light Reading

TiVo Criticizes CableCARD Coverage

Mari Silbey

TiVo General Counsel Matt Zinn has lashed out at Light Reading's coverage of the US House of Representatives' passage of a bill that would repeal the FCC's separable security mandate, a move that could endanger the future of CableCARDs. (See House Votes to Kill CableCARD Mandate.)

In a letter sent to Light Reading on Thursday (and printed in full at the end of this article), Zinn argued that the previous day's story "misrepresented the competitive realities surrounding set-top boxes, failed to take into account the benefits that CableCARDs have brought to consumers, and distorted the substance of the STELA reauthorization legislation passed by the House of Representatives on July 22."

TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) was also unhappy with other press coverage of the implications for CableCARD following the key House vote, according to an industry source.

TiVo has long been a strong proponent of maintaining the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's integration ban, despite its unpopularity among cable operators. Company officials believe, Zinn writes, that "eliminating the integration ban would undermine consumer choice and bring real harm to the retail marketplace."

The argument is a logical one for the company, given that CableCARD technology has been a critical enabler for TiVo's retail set-top boxes and other products. For years, TiVo struggled to make much headway in the cable market, before finally finding the magic formula with a new attitude towards the industry and cable-friendly hardware, software and other products.

However, the company's position is at odds with the fact that the FCC's well-intentioned separable security mandate has fallen far short of its original goals. Instituted in 2007, the CableCARD mandate did not create a thriving retail market for cable TV hardware, as it was meant to do. Seven years later, the market environment is also very different than it was when the mandate was put in place, thanks to growing support for IP video delivery, and the continuing spread of Internet-connected devices. (See Bye-Bye, CableCARDs?)

Highlighting TiVo's specific criticisms of our recent story, Zinn argued that the scenario portrayed by the article "will take the cable industry back to the noncompetitive situation that existed prior to CableCARDs -- operators locking consumers into proprietary security solutions, sticking many consumers with no real choice."

However, it should be noted that Light Reading did not advocate the scenario that Zinn describes. What the story does say is that "CableCARD technology has also largely struck out with consumers, very few of whom have installed the security modules in set-top devices that they bought at retail."

The story also says that a technology solution that Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and TiVo are currently developing, which would not require a CableCARD to bring cable services to TiVo set-tops, "could go a long way to appeasing TiVo fans who have traditionally been some of the most vocal CableCARD supporters." In a related story earlier this month, we also noted that Comcast specifically said it would still "support retail CableCARD devices even with a new, non-CableCARD solution in the works.” (See Comcast, TiVo May Ditch the CableCARD.)

If you want to keep up with all the latest developments on CableCARDs, keep your eyes glued to our cable set-top box channel on the site.

The CableCARD debate is an important ongoing story, and Light Reading will continue to cover the news in its full context as it develops. While we stand by our recent CableCARD article, we also believe strongly in the right of reply and appreciate feedback from our community of readers. To that end, we have printed the letter from TiVo in its entirety below:

    To the Editor:

    Mari Silbey’s July 23 news analysis (“House Votes to Kill CableCARD Mandate”) misrepresented the competitive realities surrounding set-top boxes, failed to take into account the benefits that CableCARDs have brought to consumers, and distorted the substance of the STELA reauthorization legislation passed by the House of Representatives on July 22. Despite her flawed analysis, however, Ms. Silbey reached the correct conclusion about what would happen if the Senate passes a similar bill repealing the integration ban: CableCARDs would be effectively eliminated – the very outcome that House sponsors promised would not happen.

    TiVo has said from the outset that eliminating the integration ban would undermine consumer choice and bring real harm to the retail marketplace. Without common reliance on CableCARDs, operators would have even less reason to support a technology that they would not be using for their own new boxes. Ending the common reliance requirement would also harm the competitive market for the sale of set-top boxes to operators, reducing competition and choice.

    The scenario discussed by Ms. Silbey will take the cable industry back to the noncompetitive situation that existed prior to CableCARDs – operators locking consumers into proprietary security solutions, sticking many consumers with no real choice. Proponents of consumer choice and competition in the video device marketplace can only hope that the Senate does not pursue this ill-advised path.

    Matt Zinn
    General Counsel
    TiVo Inc.

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

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User Rank: Light Beer
8/22/2014 | 8:00:21 AM
TiVo Criticizesw CableCARD Coverage
I agree with you but the consumer choices are always different and they always want to have the best technology that fits with their taste and choice. Here are some people like to get the services of Essay Eagles or want to get the best entertainment via these TiVo. So we also need to have the best technology according to our choice.
User Rank: Light Beer
8/3/2014 | 9:04:00 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
Consumers may indeed periodically be idiots. But without them, TiVo has no business. And I'd say Comcast is more to blame if they can't figure out how to pair deployed CableCARDs, provide a single stream card versus mCard, and/or fall asleep while trying as documented here just last week:

As someone who understands CableCARD, I had to get Montgomery County (MD) government involved as the local franchising authority for Comcast to get it done (in a timely fashion). And, in Fairfax, VA, Cox NEVER figured out how to make their SDV tuning adapters reliably work (which led me to Verizon - where it's mostly been smooth sailing, knock on wood).
User Rank: Light Weight
8/3/2014 | 8:54:41 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
as a TiVo user, I am terrified at the prospect of using the X1 - it is garbage compared to TiVo's Rovio offering.

Consumers are idiots - I have had _zero_ problems walking into my local Comcast office, asking for three cablecards, calling a telephone number, and repeating back some digits. Why is this considered so difficult?
Mitch Wagner
Mitch Wagner,
User Rank: Lightning
7/31/2014 | 3:39:28 PM
Just the facts
Saying that few consumers are willing to mess around with CableCARDs is just a fact. 

Shoot, even I don't bother to mess with it, and I work in this industry, hate our Cox DVR, and loved our TiVo. But going to all the trouble of getting a new TiVo and setting it up seems like a lot of work. Instead, I just swear at the existing DVR. 

It's kind of like those articles you read about toilet training the cat. Sure, it saves cleaning litterboxes but it seems so difficult that 13 years spent scooping litter seems like it's more attractive. 
User Rank: Light Beer
7/29/2014 | 7:44:05 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
In other spin, having re-read the TiVo/Comcast filing, I'm left with more questions than answers. They parties say they have an "agreement" - is this a contractual thing or a handshake? Also, they say Comcast will continue to "support" CableCARD "notwithstanding the D.C. Circuit's EchoStar decision last year vacating certain CableCARD rules." So, first, Zinn clearly acknowledges CableCARD uncertainty. More practically, what is the duration of Comcast's support? One year, two years, until TiVo's Time Warp patent protection expires and Comcast doesn't care to deal with them any longer?
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 11:13:54 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
Unless TiVo has another massive round of patent litigation up its sleeve, the revenue stream may be a bit shallow, which would account for the testiness.
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/28/2014 | 10:24:51 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
@MendyK no, the numbers do not appear to be in their favor.
User Rank: Light Beer
7/27/2014 | 4:46:35 PM
Re: Lawyer jokes
Agree, considering how tightly knitted the cabal that is cablelabs is....its a wonder this hasnt happened earlier.

I used to be pissed off at cablelabs and their i could just care less.
User Rank: Light Sabre
7/26/2014 | 10:36:02 AM
Re: Spin, baby, spin
The Silicon Valley Business Journal recently reported that Mr. Zinn litigated $1.6 billion for TiVo over the past three years, mainly through patent cases. TiVo's market cap now sits at $1.55 billion. The arithmetic does not look promising.
User Rank: Light Beer
7/25/2014 | 2:54:28 PM
Spin, baby, spin
The fact is, CableCARD's future is uncertain. Which is bad for TiVo's struggling retail business. Given Zinn's response, they must be petrified and this is what damage control looks like. 
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