Cable, TiVo Pondering SDV Problem

The cable industry is attempting to iron out some significant technical issues TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) have raised regarding the unintended effects (or intended, if you happen to be cable conspiracy nutjob) of switched digital video (SDV), a technique aimed at improving cable bandwidth efficiency by delivering some linear channels only when customers in a given service group select them for viewing.

The problem: TiVo says its "one-way" digital video recorders (DVRs) won't be able to access two-way SDV linear channels, a shortcoming that could make those boxes less attractive to consumers. Among operators, Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) have been among the most aggressive with SDV, the latter pledging just this week to deploy the technology in half of its markets before the end of 2007. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), meanwhile, is just starting to get its feet wet with SDV via technical trials in Denver and Cherry Hill, N.J. (See Comcast Reveals SDV Test Beds and Comcast Puts SDV Vendors to the Test.)

Despite such complaints, I don't expect cable's SDV initiatives to be stymied by any stretch. It may not be out of the harbor yet, but the SDV ship has certainly set sail. It's going to happen. It's just a question of how quickly the other cable operators will get on board. The bandwidth improvements -- even if they are considered incremental by some observers -- are just too great to ignore as MSOs are pressured to expand their high-definition television (HDTV) lineups and, later, to set aside channels for the speedy Docsis 3.0 platform. (See Is Cable Faster Than FiOS?)

While TiVo's new high-def-capable Series 3 DVR will support the Multistream CableCARD, the device itself can only handle one-way cable services. Although it's equipped to take in digital cable services without the need for a separate set-top box, it can't do interactive services like video-on-demand, either. Interestingly, the Series 3 has dual CableCARD slots, but that only ensures that customers can take advantage of the device's two tuners and record two channels simultaneously.

In a filing made to the FCC on June 5 outlining recent "progress" being made between the cable and consumer electronics industries on the subject of two-way digital cable ready (DCR) products, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) noted that, upon hearing of the complaint, "the cable industry responded promptly and engineers from cable and TiVo are working now to find a solution." But there was little shared on how that will (or can) be done from a technical standpoint.

Although concerned about this issue, TiVo President & CEO Tom Rogers was careful not to appear too concerned about it, testifying recently that to cable's "great credit, they have said, we want to work this out, we want to work this through. We are hopeful that it will be solved"

That sound you hear is eggshells underfoot. Although hints reveal that TiVo's relationship with DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) might be resurrected, part of TiVo's future hinges on the success of its partnerships with major U.S. MSOs such as Comcast and Cox Communications Inc. (See Comcast to Kick Off Boston TiVo Party.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 3:07:09 PM
re: Cable, TiVo Pondering SDV Problem
Would you just not rent an apartment in SDV cities and set up a mechanism (automated/manual) to get a TV with a scrolling mechanism to switch all the channels - focusing on the unpopular ones? The idea being to make SDV of lower value by forcing the Cable system to forward as many channels as possible.

Sorta like a cable company getting a u-verse apartment and scrolling channel changes as fast as possible to screw up u-verse.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:07:08 PM
re: Cable, TiVo Pondering SDV Problem Interesting idea. Wonder what that line item would cost on the budget? Guess they'd have to focus on an area's low rent district.
tryme 12/5/2012 | 3:06:49 PM
re: Cable, TiVo Pondering SDV Problem The method you suggest would only work in the context of an SDV "Service Group" (anywhere from 500-1000 homes typically). That and the fact that as you cycle, once you leave the channel, the spectrum gets released to be put in the pool again.

There are also other mechanisms put in place to limit that kind of exposure, such as terminating a stream if there's been no user interaction for several hours (by watching remote button mashing).

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