Video services

Comcast, TiVo May Ditch the CableCARD

It might be almost time to throw away that CableCARD.

In a partnership that would have been hard to imagine in earlier years, Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) are working together today to develop a solution that would give TiVo retail set-tops access to Comcast interactive services without a CableCARD device.

Multichannel News uncovered an FCC filing that points to an agreed-upon, non-CableCARD approach that could also be extended to other "compatible customer-owned devices."

Details on the solution are limited, but the cable industry has been working for years on developing downloadable security technology. It's possible that the Comcast/TiVo strategy involves some version of a downloadable security product.

The integrated security ban that came into effect in 2007 was meant to open up the cable market to new retail devices. However, outside of traditional set-tops, CableCARD products never caught on, in part because of a complicated installation process.

Meanwhile, despite early battles, TiVo has continued to make progress with the cable industry. In addition to pairing its retail boxes with cable services, TiVo has also formed agreements with numerous operators that allow consumers to lease TiVo set-tops with a cable subscription. Some cable companies are even introducing the Netflix app on those leased TiVo boxes. (See TiVo Cable Partnership Pays Off.)

The new deal with Comcast is also notable because it suggests how the cable giant might evolve its strategy for supporting third-party hardware platforms. Comcast has been far more cautious than other cable companies (including Time Warner Cable) about porting its Xfinity services to other devices. Yet with a continued migration toward IP video delivery, the opening up of that experience to more retail products appears slow but inevitable.

In Comcast's FCC filing from this week, the company did note that it would continue to support retail CableCARD devices even with a new, non-CableCARD solution in the works. Comcast also said that it would offer its new solution up to other operators "on commercially reasonable terms."

— Mari Silbey, special to Light Reading

COMMENTS Add Comment
Mitch Wagner 7/17/2014 | 2:13:38 PM
Re: TiVO... Kbode - Why have cable/TiVo mashups failed in your opinion? It seems like a natural match -- cable user interfaces are so very, very bad. 

smkinoshita 7/16/2014 | 7:59:50 PM
Re: hardware is not the most profitable DRM method... @mhhf1ve:  I totally agree!  Considering the looming threat of web video, this doesn't seem like a very long-term tactical move by cable.  Yes I understand the need to have some protection from piracy but right now I don't think that's what they should focus on.
KBode 7/16/2014 | 6:44:53 PM
TiVO... I've seen way too many half-cooked but never deployed in scale TiVO/cable mashups to get too excited yet, but this shows promise. Wonder if Comcast will be willing to work with other companies as well?
mhhf1ve 7/16/2014 | 6:28:49 PM
hardware is not the most profitable DRM method... Cable companies have an understandable desire to encrypt their video services so that users can't get "free cable" -- and satellite providers (try to) do the same thing. 

Ultimately, software encryption is a more efficient means to put DRM in place, but it's easier for pirates to crack because potential pirates don't need to spend any money on trying to reverse engineer hardware.

Hardware dongles are expensive and not foolproof, but they do present a physical barrier to piracy. Too bad cable providers can't focus on delivering excellent service, instead of relying on DRM to trap customers. Netflix doesn't waste its time on hardware dongles....
Sign In