Cablevision sued over on-demand plans

Four Hollywood studios and the three major television networks have filed a copyright suit seeking to prevent Cablevision Systems from launching an “on-demand” service that aims to replace the living room digital video recorder.

I’m a bit torn about this. One the one hand, if Cablevision can deploy a centralized DVR system it could be bad for TiVo. A centralized system is inherently more efficient (economies of scale) than DVRs in every home. The hardware in the home only needs to receive and decode the data – no encoders, no storage, etc. Unless TiVo could provide the UI for the client devices (possible) it’d be more competition for them.

On the other hand, I like seeing technological innovation in general. And I agree with Cablevision’s stance. What they’re offering is functionally no different than TiVo or any other DVR. The differences is simply that the encoders and drives are in a central location – kind of like having half the DVR (recording & storage) in their server room and the other half (playback & UI) in the home. This isn’t OnDemand or rebroadcasting, IMHO. Just like with a DVR in the home, the user has to request recordings and each user has their own recordings, it isn’t a shared system.

So I have to hope the courts agree with Cablevision and not the foot-dragging entertainment industry.

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  • anonymous

    So, if I read this right, my recordings are stored by them?

    Thanks, but no thanks. I work in IT. So much could go wrong it isn’t funny.
    It’s basically Oracles version of the network computer, only with a DVR.

    At least, that’s what I get from reading this…

  • cassiusdrow

    I am not a lawyer, but I think the fact that the shows are recorded and stored in a central place and then distributed to multiple remote locations for playback is actually considered broadcasting. It’s not much different than bit-torrent or other file sharing networks, only on a slightly smaller scale and for a controlled audience. I agree that a centralized DVR service like this could be potentially much more efficient and reliable than individual DVRs in each customer’s house. But at the same time, you become much more dependent on the cable company and more subject to their whims. Suppose this lawsuit results in requiring the cable company to negotiate time- and place-shifting rights (and fees) with every channel they carry? The cable bill would probably go up, and you might even lose the ability to record some stations.

    I prefer the flexibility and independence of owning my own TiVos. Now if they would just put the Series 3 out already.

  • dw_duck

    Me neither, but you got me thinking: what’s the legal distinction between broadcasting and caching? If they were to emulate a traditional DVR from the user’s perspective (make them request recordings and keep them from advancing past the “current” marker on the live network), but implement it with common/distributed copies of the network’s feed, that would seem to be okay.

  • buran

    The problem I have with it is that someone else has control over what I get to store and what I get to do with it. And then there’s latency.

    No thanks. I’ll stick with my dedicated linux box that I can hack as I please.

  • cambler

    Furthermore, the centralized service has the option to wait until you’ve gotten rid of your personal DVR, and then start charging you $1 every time you “demand” a show.

    I’m with you – local control.

  • megazone

    Yes, they’re stored centrally.

    It is really no different than Yahoo mail, or HoTMaiL, or GMail, etc. Or any of the online photo sharing services, online backup services, online storage, etc, etc. The network is the computer, and the computer is the network.

    I’m a Director of IT Operations myself. While things *can* go wrong – economies of scale actually mean they can make this MORE reliable than most people can afford at home. You can have a RAID-like setup of tuners and encoders. Storage can be on redundant SANs of RAID drives. Because the cost is spread over the customer base. Putting those high-availability features into a DVR for the home would make it far to expensive for nearly all users.

  • megazone

    I suppose it depends on the definition of broadcasting. From what Cablevision has said, User A has STB A in their home. They select a Show A to record. The recording is done on the big cloud in the sky – Cablevision’s head-end. When you want to watch it you watch it from STB A. *Maybe* A’ and A” – other STBs on the same account at the same address.

    You could not watch it on STB B at your friends house. Nor could you watch Show B that your friend recorded from STB B at his house, on STB A in your house.

    So the functionality just exactly like a DVR in the STB. If you’re an IT geek, the central system is kind of like a SAN. The hard drive isn’t local, it is on the other end of an iSCSI connection. (OK, probably not iSCSI, but you get the point.)

    They aren’t allowing the shows to go to other people or other places. It isn’t like this is a TiVo+Slingbox replacement, where you can watch that show anywhere from the net. (Though, of course, I can see that evolving from this. Once the shows are data, they can go anywhere data goes. But that’s not involved in the legal issues today.)

    I, personally, I agree about the control issues. I’d want to see this technology proven and the market well established before I jumped on. An established market resists major changes very effectively, so it would be hard for them to remove capabilities once people grow to expect them. Look at some of the backlash against DRM and the like, because people see it as losing capabilities they’ve long held.

    Conversely, offer people something in return and they may bite. Look at iTunes – I use it too to buy most of my music now, and I know I’m locked into Apple’s products. (At least until JHymn is working again.) When HoTMaiL first came out a lot of people couldn’t understand why anyone would want to use a web based email service and trust all their email to a site like that (of course, most of those people were already trusting their email to some ISP anyway). Now HoTMaiL, GMail, Yahoo mail, etc, are HUGE service providers and are widely used.

    For people used to full featured DVRs with a lot of power, this seems like a step back. For people with a VCR and regular cable, this seems like a leap forward. And for the cable company this is a much more cost effective solution than STB DVRs which reportedly cost them $800-$1000 apiece, taking years to pay for themselves.

  • megazone

    The ‘common copy’ approach has been shot down already, twice. Time Warner proposed doing that a couple of years ago. Store one copy of every show, basically, and then allow users to watch the recordings. Even if the user had to request it ahead of time, it was still stomped on as copying and redistributing the content. That’s why Cablevision is taking the approach of keeping multiple copies, where there is a copy for every requested recording, and you can only watch what you requested. Making it functionally equivalent to a DVR in the home.

    The other attempt was which would keep one copy each of millions of songs, and then allow you to register your CD collection – giving you access to copies of the tracks you owned. It was shut down because it shared the same copy with all the users, and it wasn’t a copy of the CD they owned, but another copy.

  • dw_duck

    Ditto — Tivo’s “a DRM implementation to be announced later” is already pushing it for me. But, as far as fair use is concerned, I’ll support it a bit because the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

    (As a somewhat random aside, do you happen to know anything about capturing and controlling an HD DirecTV receiver from a Linux box? I’m hoping to find another option than their co-branded Tivo.)

  • megazone

    As far as I know, there aren’t consumer level HD capture cards out there. Has that changed? I’ve seen cards that capture component video, but only SD.