The agency is considering an "open" API (application program interface) approach for AllVid, setting in motion an alternative to the much-maligned CableCARD and cutting a new path toward a more vibrant market for retail devices that can connect to the subscription TV services of MSOs, telcos and satellite TV companies.
AllVid is still in the "notice of inquiry" (NOI) stage and the FCC has yet to reveal when it will morph it into a fully-fledged rule-making effort, but there's increasing evidence that the agency is departing from its original vision to mandate a new breed of network-agnostic video gateways and adapters. (See All About the FCC's AllVid and FCC Inches Towards Net-Agnostic Gateways.)
Indeed, it appears that the FCC is mulling revisions that would see the creation of app-centric, IP-based approaches that draft off the retail momentum already being achieved by multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) and consumer electronics companies.
But even that approach seems to be a moving target since it's not certain if the FCC will want MVPDs to standardize on one, grand API or allow each MVPD to build its own. "It's not clear what we're shooting at," says an industry source who is following AllVid.
The FCC is still meeting with stakeholders about AllVid and it hasn't settled on one approach over another, but the open API idea has been getting attention on the agency's docket of late, all but ensuring that any proposed rule will look much different from the ideas presented when the AllVid NOI came to light last spring.
Some recent examples:
- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) believes more regulatory action is unnecessary, but told the FCC that an API approach that would let consumer electronics (CE) devices access an "Internet Protocol version of an MVPD's service should present fewer concerns than many alternatives proposed" for AllVid.
- Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) warned against a rule that would create one standard API for AllVid, noting that CE devices already support multiple APIs for access to services like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX). Requiring MVPDs to all develop a single API "would be completely at odds with technological and marketplace trends," the company said.
- Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH) didn't oppose the API concept for AllVid, but told the FCC that, should the agency pursue that angle, the satellite TV provider would still need to deploy a hardware adapter to convert the incoming signals to IP format.
Is another mandate needed?
Industry observers believe the revisions under discussion demonstrate that the FCC is simply trying to mold AllVid into something that reflects the evolution of the video device market. Because of this, some likewise wonder why the FCC is even bothering if the visions for AllVid are being achieved without more government interference.
Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS), for example, argued that all of the various AllVid proposals fall short because the marketplace is becoming replete with ways for consumers to access video content, and that an FCC mandate would hamper its ability to innovate or experiment with new business models.
But not everyone is wild about the API idea, especially if it means that CE companies, video security firms and programmers would have to manage APIs for each MVPD. "If you take that logic to its conclusion, you can end up with thousands of APIs," says one industry source. "When you add them all up, it's a joke."
The FCC has not expressed when it would propose its AllVid rules, but it's unlikely that it will vote on anything until the second half of the year. Although Disney and the cable industry would like to see the FCC drop AllVid, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and others from the CE world have banded together to form the AllVid Tech Company Alliance and lobby the FCC to follow through. (See Google, TiVo & Best Buy Rally for AllVid.)
In the meantime, expect cable to counter by drawing attention to retail examples that have developed without mandates, including Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and TW Cable's work with Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC), and TW Cable's deal with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE). (See CES 2011: Samsung Puts MSOs in the Picture, CES 2011: TW Cable, Sony Make IPTV Connection and Cable Resparks Retail Play, But Cedes Control .)
Beyond those examples, Comcast's "CodeBig" project is taking an API approach that looks a lot like what's being proposed at the FCC. And just this week, Comcast and TiVo tweaked their deal so the MSO's video-on-demand service could run on Premiere DVRs without tru2way. (See Comcast Ready to Kick Apps With 'CodeBig' and Comcast, TiVo Strike Retail Deal .)
TW Cable, meanwhile, has built a facility in the Denver area that it's using to deliver IP-based streams of live TV channels for its new iPad app and setting the stage for a full IP simulcast that can deliver the MSO's full TV service to TVs and other connected devices. (See TW Cable Flirts With Full IP Video Simulcast and TWC's iPad App Launches With (Some) Live TV.)
And expect to hear much more about similar examples and deals to emerge in the weeks ahead, starting with The Cable Show, set for June 14-16 in Chicago. Conveniently enough, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski is scheduled to participate in the show's General Session on June 15.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable