Video services

Brenner Defends OpenCable

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Guess what: Cable still doesn't like DCR+.

And the industry got a chance to elaborate on that position in yesterday's CableNEXT lunch keynote by David Brenner, National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) senior vice president of law and regulatory policy.

Predictably, Brenner said the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) should reject DCR+ (Digital Cable Ready-Plus), a proposal of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) , in favor of what he called a more universal option: OpenCable.

This is all about a two-way plug-and-play agreement that would allow TVs to authorize and display digital cable services, including video-on-demand and interactive program guides, without a set-top box. The FCC adopted a one-way plug-and-play agreement in 2002, leading to TVs that use an operator-supplied CableCARD to authorize services. Now the FCC wants to have a two-way accord settled well before the February 2009 digital TV transition.

But cable and the CEA have been unable to reach a consensus and continue to espouse OpenCable and DCR+, respectively. (See Two-Way Battle Reaches FCC.)

Of course, cable thinks the FCC should keep its nose out of it -- partly because the industry claims OpenCable is already the market's choice.

Brenner noted that TV makers such as Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) have already agreed to incorporate the OpenCable Platform, as has Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC). (See Intel Goes Inside Cable... Again.)

More recently, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) disclosed in an FCC filing that the cable industry had agreed to make "clarifications or adjustments" to OpenCable for a two-way DVR/set-top combo. (See TiVo à la Mode .)

"The FCC, however, seems to be reluctant to rely on the market at this point," Brenner said.

Even if the FCC selects DCR+, it's "unrealistic" to think that such devices would be manufactured and ready for use by the 2009 cutover, he added.

Cable operators say DCR+ would be expensive to implement. They also claim DCR+'s limited capabilities would force consumers to buy a separate set-top box to access services like TV-based caller ID or "Start Over," the Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)application that restarts shows already in progress.

In sum, DCR+ "would kill innovation in the cable industry and micromanage technology choices," Brenner said.

The CEA believes DCR+ would give set-top and TV makers everything necessary to deliver interactive services that are not covered by the existing one-way agreement. The agency is also not wild about seeing the adoption of a platform that is under the general control of the cable industry.

Separately, the cable industry is pushing the FCC to consider a platform that could be shared by the entire universe of Multi-channel Video Programming Distributors (MVPDs). This "All-MVPD" system would encompass not only cable operators and the telcos, but also satellite television providers, which so far have been exempt from the regulatory proceedings.

To support and authorize cable services, the All-MVPD approach would require a small device that would hook into the back of the television. Something smaller than a cable box, but a little larger than a CableCARD. "Exactly the size of that cheesecake," Brenner joked, as attendees noshed on the final course of the luncheon.

As envisioned, the service operator would supply the small security element, and the bulk of components associated with All-MVPD would be housed in the TV set.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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