CableCARD Continues To Struggle In Consumer Devices

In a filing yesterday with the FCC on the current status on CableCARD deployments the NCTA revealed that there have been a total of over 374,000 CableCARDs deployed for use in Unidirectional Digital Cable Products (UDCPs), such as the TiVo HD, by the ten largest cable MSOs, which cover roughly 90% of US cable subscribers. That may sound like a lot, but in their last filing 90 days ago in June, they reported over 372,000 CableCARDs for the same ten MSOs and 90% subscriber base. That implies that only 2,000 CableCARDs have been deployed to UDCPs in the past three months by the top 10 cable MSOs – combined. That’s nothing. It would also make me wonder a bit about the sales of the TiVo HD, since I’d expect nearly all of those to have at least one M-Card CableCARD.

That is, of course, if the numbers are true – and they may not be. See the table below and especially the first footnote1. Comcast’s numbers for September are estimated to be 10-15% lower than actual due to an internal error. We could be looking at an increase of more than 34,000 users instead of only 2,000!

While 34,000 would certainly be better than 2,000, it still isn’t really setting the world on fire. Maybe the M-Card is a ray of hope in those numbers – if customers who previously used two S-Cards are trading them in for a single M-Card on devices like the TiVo HD, it would result in a lower cumulative number. Still, I don’t expect that’s a huge number either.

This is not to say that the total number of CableCARDs in use is that small, not at all. Since the FCC’s ‘integration ban’ went into effect on July 1, 2007, forcing cable MSOs to begin using CableCARDs in their own STBs, those same ten MSOs have deployed over 7,800,000 CableCARDs in their STBs. So in less than fifteen months they’ve deployed more than twenty times the number of CableCARDs as have been issued for 3rd party UDCPs in the four years they’ve been available.

The integration ban was supposed to force cable MSOs to ‘eat their own dog food’ and thereby improve support for CableCARDs. The idea was that this would help foster the overall CableCARD market. Better support from MSOs would lead to more products, which would mean more 3rd party UDCPs in the field. For the most part, this hasn’t happened.

Why not? Well, I think I can sum it up in one brand name: tru2way. Starting late last year, and getting an official launch at CES in January, OCAP became tru2way and marked a push to get consumer electronics companies on board. Then starting with Samsung in May, followed by a larger push by Sony later that month, CE vendors started jumping on the tru2way bandwagon.

What does this have to do with slow CableCARD adoption? Well, these same CE vendors have held off on releasing UDCPs while they work on tru2way-enabled devices. Why invest in developing and marketing a unidirectional product when you’re going to obsolete it with a two-way product in a year? The first tru2way products are starting to trickle out, and there will probably be a bunch of them on display at CES in January. So I think the push for tru2way was a major contributor to lax CableCARD pick up. Vendors just haven’t been releasing CableCARD-enabled products so there aren’t many options for consumers, which naturally means not many cards are being deployed. Really the only major CableCARD product out there right now is TiVo. CableCARD TVs are thin on the ground. CableCARD-enabled Media Center PCs have had anemic sales. And Digeo outright canceled their Moxi CableCARD HD DVR.

CableCARD was slow out of the gate, and by the time MSOs had the infrastructure worked out vendors were already looking toward round two with tru2way and they just decided to sit round one with UDCPs out entirely. The deployment of SDV and the need to develop a Tuning Adapter, and to support it, was very likely a factor in that as well. I don’t expect to see any real pick-up in CableCARD utilization until a sufficient number of tru2way devices are available to consumers, and then I do expect to see a real uptick.

The filing also has information from several MSOs on their CableCARD pricing and install practices. To compare June to September:

 June SubsSept. SubsTruck RollAvg. Truck RollsAvg. CC FeeAvg. Install Fee
Comcast218,551217,1681No21.06$0.00 / $1.773$10.43 / $25.144
Time Warner57,40459.962Yes51.25$2.266$23.75

1Comcast states that their September number may by low by 10-15% due to internal reporting errors.

The count for this reporting period of CableCARDs installed in one way retail devices in active customer homes is estimated to be 10-15% lower than the actual number due to internal Comcast reporting errors that are the result of an internal Division reorganization during the reporting period. The next quarterly report will more accurately reflect the actual count.

Since Comcast has such a large installed base this could be the reason for the seemingly small total uptick. The other four combined yield an increase of 3,429. Comcast’s apparent drop of 1,383 drags it down. But if they’re short just 10% they would actually have an increase of 20,334 users. And 15% would mean an increase of 31,192! So we’d be looking at a total increase of 23,763 to 34,621 – rather more than around 2,000. And that’s just from these five MSOs.

2Comcast allows self-installs in at least some areas – 68% used truck rolls, 32% were self-installs.

3First card is free, fee for additional cards.

4$10.43 if install is included with other services, $25.14 if purpose visit.

50.2% of Time Warner installs are self-install, which is negligible.

6The average is $2.26, but they report most divisions are $1.75 – which must mean the remaining divisions are rather higher to bring the average up.

About MegaZone

MegaZone is the Editor of Gizmo Lovers and the chief contributor. He's been online since 1989 and active in several generations of 'social media' - mailing lists, USENet groups, web forums, and since 2003, blogging.    MegaZone has a presence on several social platforms: Google+ / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / LiveJournal / Web.    You can also follow Gizmo Lovers on other sites: Blog / Google+ / Facebook / Twitter.
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  • Brian

    This doesn’t surprise me at all. Working in a cable market with the highest digital penetration, I hardly ever see cable cards used. By my own estimates, less than 1 in 250 installs include a cable card. Most of my customers with tivos are still using analog or a digital set top box hooked to a series 2. While the series 3 and HD tivos are wonderful products, I don’t see people rushing out to buy them.

    Cable cards are almost secret. Many consumers with a cable card slot in their tvs do not even know they are there, or what to do with them. Cable MSOs don’t want to advertise that they can get the digital channels for free or cheap, compared to an expensive monthly fee for a converter.

    Tivo has done a poor job of defining what a true Tivo is, as has been mentioned here many times. Consumers with DVRs think they are getting the Tivo experience, and they seem to be at least satisfied with it.

    I hope tru2way does everything as advertised. Consumers will be happy when choices increase, and quality improves.

  • Tim

    I was using my a series 1 Tivo until February of this year, when I bought an HD TiVo. I would say that most people would be like “I can get a DVR from the cable company for an extra $10 a month or spend $250 to buy a TiVo and then an additional $12 a month for the service, um no thanks.” I do express to the people I talk to that a cable company DVR is not a TiVo, but they don’t care.
    I may be paranoid thinking this but I hope the cable companies don’t one day decide they’re not supporting the cards, we’re taking them all back, and here’s our shi**y DVR box.

  • MegaZone

    They can’t do that unless the FCC rescinds the mandate requiring them to support CableCARD.

  • Rabidamoeba

    But, Megazone: What’s to say that someday the FCC might actually do just that? They are just another government agency and a fickle one at that.

  • MegaZone

    It would take all the directors at the FCC to vote on that, so it wouldn’t be trivial. It is possible, very very improbable for the near future.

    CableCARD WILL be replaced at some point, probably by DCAS, but it will be several years at least. There is just too much momentum behind CableCARD, just within the cable industry. Everything being worked on right now is based around CableCARD.

  • Tim

    Thanks Megazone, I had visions of a $300 dust collector sitting in my audio rack.
    Funny thing too when I asked Cablevision about when the tuner adapter would be available, the woman on the phone had no idea what I was talking about. All I got was “We don’t sell an adapter for the TiVo.” Yes I know it’s not out yet but can you tell me when it will be. Again I get “We don’t sell an adapter for the TiVo.” I explained that it clearly states in the CableCard section on thier support site that it’s on the way. Nope we don’t sell it.

    HA! the Captcha for this post was “Street pride” Werd up son.

  • steve

    my concern is will my 2 tivoHD’s be useless bricks if and when tru2way pushed cableCard away? i just hope that cablevision will acknowledge the tuning adapter, instead of saying they have no idea what i’m talking about. i also hope tivo pushes hard for any means that will allow their customers to continue using their present tivo boxes. certainly no present tivo owner wants to replace their current tivo’s because of forced obsolescence as the cableco’s try to make their own dvr’s seem like a better option.

  • MegaZone

    tru2way has nothing to do with normal tuning as with CableCARD so it shouldn’t have any impact on the TiVo HD. The Tuning Adapter is only for tuning SDV channels, that’s its only purpose.