The House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet held a hearing today in which it heard from several people, including Mark Cuban, Chad Hurley of YouTube, Blake Krikorian of Sling Media, and Tom Rogers of TiVo. Both Multichannel News and Ars Technica have decent coverage of what was said.
The main TiVo-related issue is Switched Digital Video (SDV). SDV is a way for cable MSOs to put more channels on their existing lines, but it is not compatible with unidirectional CableCARD products, such as the TiVo Series3. Nearly all CC products are unidirectional, so SDV channels are unavailable to anyone using CableCARD. This is contrary to the spirit of the CC regulations from the FCC. CC2.0 is supposed to provide support for SDV, along with PPV, VOD, etc – but CC2.0 has been mired in conflict for years, with no end in sight. The obvious concern for TiVo, and others, is that if SDV is widely deployed, they’re effectively locked out of the market. Right now Time Warner is the only major MSO using SDV, and only in limited markets, but other MSOs are looking at it.
The Multichannel News article focuses on this issue, and there are some interesting tidbits.
â€œOur new boxes are all going to be CableCard-based,â€ TiVo president and CEO Thomas Rogers testified before the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet after Eshoo spoke. â€œCableCards could be rendered useless.â€
I believe that’s the first time we’ve seen such a statement from TiVo, that all of their new boxes are going to be CableCard based. It sounds like the S2DT is the last of its kind, and all new boxes are going to be closer to the S3.
[Rep. Anna] Eshoo said SDV, by not working with CableCards, would frustrate the FCCâ€™s effort.â€œI am concerned that despite the implementation of this mandate, many cable operators will either hobble or render competitive set-top boxes unusable by deploying new channel switching technology that wonâ€™t work with other boxes,â€ she said.
Although he agreed, Rogers said that cable operators have assured him of their cooperation.
â€œThere is good news. We have pointed out this problem to the cable industry. To their great credit, they have said, we want to work this out, we want to work this through, consumers should be able to get this kind of expectation that CableCards and new technologies like this will work and we are hopeful that it will be solved,â€ he said.
Rogers said he remained concerned that cable operators do not have a sufficient supply of CableCards and that they tend to require consumers to schedule installation visits when CableCards can be mailed and easily installed by the consumer.
An National Cable & Telecommunications Association official confirmed that the industry wanted to resolve TiVoâ€™s compatibility issues.
â€œCable is working with Tivo and others to try to develop a technical fix so one-way devices will be able to access the inherently two-way switched digital video signals,â€ the NCTA official said.
This is also the first comment I’m aware of stating that TiVo is working with the cable industry on a solution to the SDV issue, apparently independent of the CC2.0 mess. Note that *all* CableCARDs are really two-way, it is the host that determines the functionality. There are a few ways a Series3 could handle SDV – signaling over the Ethernet, an external USB dongle connected to the cable, it is possible the S3 has some as-yet-unannounced bi-directional capabilities built-in. I am hopeful that it will be worked out – it isn’t TiVo vs. cable MSOs, it is the entire consumer electronics industry vs. cable MSOs, so it is likely something will be worked out. And there has been some indication that the FCC might step in and force some solution to the CC2.0 bickering that has tied it up for so long.