Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR'

Now that Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) has appealed a judge's decision that its "Remote Storage-Digital Video Recorder" (RS-DVR) infringes on studio and programmer copyrights, it's clear now more than ever that the New York-based MSO is playing for keeps. (See Net DVR Still Appealing for Cablevision.)

The fight is over whether there are separate ownership rules when content is stored on a service provider's storage system delivering the content through a networked DVR, rather than the user's own equipment. Cablevision once again will take the old Sony Betamax decision to task, contending that the RS-DVR should be protected in the same way that an in-home DVR is today. Cablevision argues that its RS-DVR is no different than an in-home DVR, because if 1,000 customers tap the RS-DVR to record a specific program, the system is designed to make 1,000 individual copies. Further, each copy is accessible only to the customer who made the original recording request.

If Cablevision's appeal is successful, it could serve to define how other cable operators move ahead with their own network-DVR services. Likewise, a successful appeal could be a boon for more than a handful of vendors that are linked to Cablevision's RS-DVR project.

Privately, some observers believed Cablevision's motive with the RS-DVR was to get programmers to the negotiation table to carve out network DVR deals -- akin to the axiom that it is easier to ask forgiveness than it is to obtain permission.

But that argument becomes a tougher sell when one considers the technical groundwork Cablevision had already completed on the project. Much of that detail is copiously outlined in a 38-page decision handed down on March 22 by U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin, who ruled that Cablevision's RS-DVR would violate the copyrights of a raft of plaintiffs, including Disney, Paramount Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, CNN, and NBC.

A look through the decision clearly indicates that Cablevision had taken the necessary technical steps to deploy the RS-DVR, though it stopped short of doing so, agreeing to mothball the project pending the judge's decision.

Now that this innovative and controversial service appears to be back in play, here, according to the judge's decision, is a brief synopsis of how the platform would work and the roles some vendors played in its creation.

Getting started
The service originates at the "BarcoNet" (Scientific Atlanta bought BarcoNet in late 2001), a closed circuit network that receives Cablevision's linear programming. That programming, called the aggregated programming stream (APS), comprises packets of data, with each packet tagged with a program identifier (PID).

The system then splits the APS into two streams, the second of which is piped to the BigBand Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: BBND) Broadband Multimedia Router (BMR). There, the BMR "clamps" the stream, converting the variable bit rate (VBR) stream into a constant bit rate (CBR) stream. (Note: the CableLabs CBR spec for standard-definition VOD streams is 3.75 Mbit/s; the CableLabs "safe harbor" bit rate for HD-VOD is 15 Mbit/s.)

During the clamping process, portions of the program are sent to the BMR's buffer memory. The BMR then encapsulates the information by converting the APS into a number of single program streams and placing packets in those streams into larger packets called User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets. Each UDP packet is assigned a port number that identifies the TV channel to which it belongs.

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loose_photon 12/5/2012 | 3:10:33 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' The MSO, according to the decision, had initially determined that each RS-DVR customer would get 80 megabytes of storage, but later decided to double it to 160 megabytes.

... the CableLabs CBR spec for standard-definition VOD streams is 3.75 Mbit/s...b>

Hmm, 160 Mbytes of storage at 3.75 Mbit/s rate gives, wait...a whooping 5.7 minutes of recorded SDTV content. Can someone shed some light on this?

wprager 12/5/2012 | 3:10:32 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' You're forgetting compression (for storage).
goundan 12/5/2012 | 3:10:32 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' 160GB and NOT 160MB. That would give you about 1.5 hours of video. They might be skipping ads while recording, in which case it could store up to 2 hours of video. The ads would then be reinserted back during the time of playback. However, that might violate the copyright act because it messes with the original stream. Maybe the lawyers/liars on LR can shed light on this aspect.
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:10:31 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' goundan is correct. Should have read "gigabytes" ...being fixed now. As for the clamping figure, a number was not included in the ruling, but as a starting point seemed to make sense to reference what the specified or "safe harbor" bit rates are for cable VOD.
materialgirl 12/5/2012 | 3:10:30 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' Great article! You can do all this work, or click on YouTube. Lets see which network scales better, offers better price-performance and application flexibility. Over time, which network will Mister Market favor?
loose_photon 12/5/2012 | 3:10:29 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' 160GB makes more sense. BTW, it allows storage of about 95 hours of SDTV or about 24 hours of HDTV at the advertized rates.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:10:29 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' Do you think video quality will also be a gating factor here? While I jump on YouTube to view short clips, I don't know if I could sit through a 60-min. show at that quality.
Michael Harris 12/5/2012 | 3:10:28 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' Great article! You can do all this work, or click on YouTube. Lets see which network scales better, offers better price-performance and application flexibility. Over time, which network will Mister Market favor?

So, through YouTube, I can now program any cable or broadcast TV show to record, and then watch it later at broadcast quality on my 60" plasma set in the living room, with full pause, rewind and FF using my TV remote?

Is this a top-secret YouTube application now in beta?

Rather than YouTube crushing cable VOD (or NPVR), arguably, what is more likely is YouTube user-generated content being distrubuted to the TV through digital cable infrastructure as an on-demand "channel" or service.

rjmcmahon 12/5/2012 | 3:10:27 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' Many times techno geeks miss the pertinent issues like does Cablevision have the rights to copy, shift, and rebroadcast content which isn't theirs? I'd suspect not.


Remeber mp3.com? Nothing but a convenience right? Consumers had to prove they already purchased the CDs. Wasn't that good enough? Unfortunately, the judge didn't see it their way.

The Merits of the Case

Most users felt that MP3.com was in the right here and were shocked by the judgement. Interestingly, Judge Rakoff felt the merits of this case made it no-brainer.

"The complex marvels of cyberspatial communication may create difficult legal issues; but not in this case," Judge Rakoff wrote. "Defendant's infringement of plaintiffs' copyrights is clear."

Here are the points the Judge made on the case:

o "Here, although defendant recites that MyMP3.com provides a transformative 'space shift' by which subscribers can enjoy sound recordings contained on their CDs without lugging around the physical discs themselves, this is simply another way of saying that the unauthorized copies are being retransmitted in another medium - an insufficient basis for any legitimate claim of transformation." The company was merely repackaging the recordings to help transmit them through another medium.

o Judge Rakoff said that the sheer volume of the copying negates any claim of fair use.

o The company invaded the music industry's right "to license their copyrighted sound recordings to others for reproduction."

o On MP3.com's argument that its requirement of proof of purchase would enhance music companies sales the judge replied "Any allegedly positive impact of defendant's activities on plaintiffs' prior market in no way frees defendant to usurp a further market that directly derives from reproduction of the plaintiffs' copyrighted works."

o Judge Rakoff dismissed the company's argument that it provides a useful service to consumers. "Copyright," he said, " ... is not designed to afford consumer protection or convenience but, rather, to protect the copyright holders' property interests."
goundan 12/5/2012 | 3:10:26 PM
re: Inside Cablevision's 'RS-DVR' MG,

The internet is built on stat muxing principles. If Youtube were to serve 10 million SDTV quality streams (assuming 10% active users out of 100M users)they would require 37.5 Tbps. Is there such a pipe available to any content provider? Don't give me BS about distributed content caching etc, for that can solve the problem by only one order of magnitude. For ture scaling of simultaneous video you require reaching down all the way to the edge. The edge under the control of the AT&Ts, VZ, Comcasts of the world. In the end the edge provider has the final say on how many bits can pass without stat muxing and this is how they will win over the so called Youtubes of the world. In the end it all boils down to elementary mathematics.

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