Claims retail box that's agnostic to all network types would be 'cost-prohibitive,' and that most customers prefer to lease set-tops

Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor

December 16, 2009

3 Min Read
DirecTV Disses Cable's 'All-MVPD' Plans

When it comes to the concept of an "all-MVPD" (multichannel video programming distributor) device, DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) ain't buyin' what the cable industry's sellin'.

"An 'All-MVPD' solution would impose unnecessary costs and would impede, rather than advance technical innovation," the satellite broadcasting giant said in a document filed Tuesday. The filing was made in response to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's call for comments on how it can "encourage innovation" in the video device market as it assembles a National Broadband Plan that it intends to present to Congress on Feb. 17, 2010.

The FCC is entering this proceeding asking if high-speed Internet adoption could become more prevalent if broadband is embedded in TVs and/or set-tops, since 99 percent of U.S. homes have TVs, while just 75 percent have PCs. Comments on the set-top issue are due to the FCC by December 21, but the docket's already starting to heat up a bit. (See Whither the CableCARD?)

DirecTV, which is currently exempt from a July 2007 rule that bans integrated security set-tops, said there's "no evidence that equipment provided by MVPDs currently is precluding consumers from accessing Internet video." (See Countdown to 'Seven-Oh-Seven'.)

Instead, DirecTV appears to be quite happy with its present box distribution model, which includes mostly leased devices, though DirecTV-compatible boxes are available for purchase, according to the company.

Of the two alternatives, "customers overwhelmingly prefer to lease their set-top box," DirecTV added, noting that those customers also can "take advantage of new services and upgrades without the sunk cost of purchasing a device."

Further, a rule requiring the development of a network-agnostic device for both MVPD video and Internet access "would be cost-prohibitive, time-consuming, and quickly surpassed by newer technology," DirecTV claimed. [Ed note: We'll go ahead and assume DirecTV's lawyers were smart enough to strike "and it smells of elderberries!" from original draft of the document.]

Thus, DirecTV marks the latest service provider to openly rebuff cable's all-MVPD proposal since its introduction about two years ago.

Nothing for the all-MVPD is set in stone yet, but the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) envisions, at least at a base level, that a "set-back" box that hides behind the TV and communicates via HDMI-CEC (High-Definition Multimedia Interface - Consumer Electronics Control) (or some other standard, agreed-upon interface) could help spark a retail model that would apply to all service providers and different network environments, and not just cable's. (See Cable's Got Ideas for a Universal Retail Box .)

DirecTV also shot down the argument that a vibrant market for retail set-tops could produce a similar level of competition that's found today in the diverse mobile handset market, claiming that it's like comparing apples and oranges. "The set-top box model varies greatly from the mobile wireless devices... due to factors such as cost and desire for product differentiation," the company claimed.

DirecTV is much more positive about the potential for Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) , a networking technology that's present in all of DirecTV's HD set-tops.

It's also partial to RVU Alliance technology, which allows compatible devices to share content once they're connected to a home network. The RVU Alliance "would further the existing DLNA capabilities" by allowing the distribution of content via IP links from a single server to other RVU Alliance-capable devices on a home network, DirecTV asserted.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

About the Author(s)

Jeff Baumgartner

Senior Editor, Light Reading

Jeff Baumgartner is a Senior Editor for Light Reading and is responsible for the day-to-day news coverage and analysis of the cable and video sectors. Follow him on X and LinkedIn.

Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.

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