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TiVo: Cable Should Love It Some IP

Jeff Baumgartner
2/18/2010
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TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) has made it abundantly clear that it thinks tru2way does not offer a path toward retail nirvana for the set-top market. Now, the DVR pioneer is telling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it may have an answer.

TiVo, in a 16-page filing to the Commission, is proposing that the cable industry adopt broadband signaling that offers an upstream path to cable headends in such a way that allows competitive retail boxes (e.g., TiVo's) to receive the same programming that subscribers can get with leased, operator-supplied cable boxes.

In TiVo's estimation, that should include access, not just to broadcast, linear video, but also to cable programming delivered in "switched" video tiers and video on demand (VoD).

TiVo highlights cable's recent TV Everywhere efforts, noting that operators are starting to deliver cable TV subscription programming to PCs and other IP connected devices without weighing them down with tru2way and CableCARD-based security. (See Comcast's 'Xfinity' Goes Live , Comcast to Expand 'Xfinity' to DSL Subs, and Comcast's 'Xfinity' to Go Mobile in 2010 .)

"There is no certification by CableLabs or anyone else, and no additional license terms imposed on device makers; and the service uses Internet-based security and open web protocols," the company said in its estimation of still-budding TV Everywhere services.

TiVo's comments arrive as the FCC prepares the National Broadband Plan it's slated to present to Congress on March 17. As part of the effort, the FCC has asked all comers to tell the Commission how it can help drive innovation in the video device market and drive broadband adoption. (See The Set-Top Mess , Whither the CableCARD?, FCC Delays National Broadband Plan.)

This marks TiVo's latest volley at the cable industry. In December, as part of the same proceeding, TiVo laid out claims that MSOs discriminate against third-party box providers by imposing strict licenses and conditions that limit design and assert control of the graphical user interface. (See TiVo Gives Cable Both Barrels .)

One-way TiVo DVR hosts with CableCARD slots can access cable switched digital video (SDV) by latching on a device called the Tuning Adapter, but they still can't get cable VoD. TiVo DVRs could get access to both cable SDV and VoD programming with tru2way, so long as the box maker agrees to certain licenses and certification parameters. (See CableLabs Stamps SDV Tuning Adapters .)

The DVR maker holds that both approaches are less than ideal and argues that all can be remedied with an IP return path to the cable headend -- along with access to the MSO's all-important bank of metadata.

With that piece solved, TiVo contends that it would have no trouble creating an overarching interface that can present cable's channel lineup, cable's on-demand library, anything stored on the hard drive, and any video content the broadband-enabled DVR is capable of accessing via the Internet.

"No approach would prevent MVPDs [multichannel video programming distributors] from offering their own boxes," TiVo noted. "But that should not mean that the reverse should be mandated, i.e., that MVPDs' cable EPGs [electronic program guides] must be the only option."

The cable industry has tried to meet TiVo halfway by proposing that tru2way middleware could let customers toggle between TiVo's guide and the MSO's native guide, but TiVo apparently believes there's nothing that should prevent it from providing the whole navigation experience. (See TiVo à la Mode .)

TiVo also tried to deflate the argument that providing access to MSOs' data would somehow unbundle cable video services or dismantle the economic underpinnings of the industry's subscription TV business model.

TiVo has been able to iron out some of these wrinkles without help from the government. Last year, for example, TiVo and SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC) struck a partnership to allow the integration of cable VoD services with TiVo DVRs without involving tru2way. The DVR would use its Ethernet port as an IP return path that interfaces with SeaChange's VoD system. That way, the box could obtain the necessary metadata and set up the video streaming sessions. (See TiVo, Comcast Discount Targets HD Subs and TiVo Hooks Up With SeaChange .)

The FCC has not yet decided whether to lump the set-top issue in with the National Broadband Plan. The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is urging the FCC to open a formal, separate Notice of Inquiry on the topic. TiVo wants the FCC to act now. "Calls for NOIs to study 'whether' the Commission should act are mere calls for delay," the company argues. (See Cable's Got Ideas for a Universal Retail Box .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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