You may not have heard of The AllVid Tech Company Alliance, but you’re probably interested in their work. The alliance is made up of Best Buy, Google, Intel, Mitsubishi Electric Visual Solutions America, Nagravision, RadioShack, Sony Electronics and TiVo, and they’re fighting for your right to access television content with your device of choice. They’re pushing the FCC to mandate that multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs – aka cable, satellite, and fiber optic television providers) be required to provide standardized, IP-based interfaces to their content.
This would allow consumer electronics vendors, such as Sony or TiVo, to build devices that would be able to plug into any programming source – cable, satellite, or fiber – and to access the full range of content. Not just linear channels, but also SDV, PayPerView, and OnDemand content. You may be aware that TiVo has deals in place with a handful of cable MSOs to access OnDemand content. RCN & Suddenlink already provide TiVo hardware to their customers which can access OnDemand, and Charter will begin doing so this year. And Cox & Comcast have agreements with TiVo to allow access to OnDemand via retail TiVo units in the coming months.
But this is piecemeal. TiVo has to pursue individual deals with each MSO, and then customize their software to work that that MSO’s OnDemand head end. There isn’t a standardized interface, and TiVo remains locked out of other MSOs. Not to mention they’re still locked out of satellite and IPTV fiber services like U-Verse because CableCARD is only mandated for cable MSOs. (FiOS uses cable standards for linear content, but IPTV for OnDemand.) And that’s just TiVo, if Sony wanted to provide the same kind of access on their products they’d have to make the same kind of individual deals with the MSOs. And then Samsung. Etc. It just isn’t the same as having open, defined standards that every vendor can implement.
AllVid is the vision for that new standard, and it would supplant CableCARD, hopefully eliminating the many shortcomings that have restricted its popularity with consumers. (Like the lack of access to OnDemand content.)
Of course, the industry, primarily in the form of the NCTA, is resisting any effort to mandate the AllVid vision. They want to be left alone, claiming that industry innovation makes AllVid unnecessary. They point to things like the TiVo-MSO deals, and a growing number of new services like Comcast’s Xfinity mobile apps. But that’s apples & oranges, saying you can stream content on your iPad isn’t the same as being able to access it on your TV with a set top box you purchased because it has the features you want. And the AllVid Alliance argues just that, in a new filing with the FCC. Just a sample:
Section 629 of the Communications Act is not satisfied by consumers being able to download an MVPD’s app on a particular brand of television set or “cable systems…developing new ways to use the Internet.” While MVPDs point to the latest
“shiny thing over there,” they ignore the Section 629 mandate of the Communications Act. The Commission must not lose sight of the fact that Congress directed the Commission to foster a competitive retail market for navigation devices used by consumers to access the full range of services offered by MVPDs, and to access that programming and those services through manufacturers, retailers and other vendors not affiliated with any MVPD
An AllVid gateway would empower a consumer to use any consumer electronics (“CE”) product to receive any programming offered by an MVPD on a subscriber basis, and would allow any CE product to work securely with respect to multichannel content. Consumers would no longer need to be concerned about how to port content to or store content on TV, computer, game, tablet, or mobile platforms, and whether programs would be lost if the consumer switches to a different MVPD or even to a different device. Consumers would have the option of choosing multichannel programming interactively without worrying about a potential cap on their use of Internet bandwidth. Multiple CE manufacturers–not just those that have negotiated deals with MVPDs–would be able to respond to consumers with innovations that directly address their needs and desires.
They go on to cite the historic Carterfone decision of 1968, which allowed consumers to stop renting their phones from AT&T and to connect non-AT&T telephones, and other telephony devices, to the phone system. Significantly ‘other telephony devices’ includes computer modems. Without Carterfone the early growth of online services may have been stifled. At least acoustic couplers would’ve had a longer run I suppose. I was born in 1970, and I’m just old enough to remember a lot of remaining ‘AT&T’ industrial looking phones and the first wave of all the new, then-radical designs which broke the mold from the standard, archetypal ‘telephone’. The AllVid Alliance is looking to open up television services in the same way.
Ironically, the cable industry themselves have shown that the AllVid vision isn’t so hard to fulfill, despite their claims that it would bring hardship and exorbitant costs. A recent demonstration at a CableLabs interop event showed cable STBs running tru2way middleware were able to stream content over an IP interface to DLNA enabled media devices, using DTCP-IP content protection. This is based on a home networking spec from CableLabs themselves, and could serve as the core for an AllVid implementation. So why the objections to the FCC mandating some baseline standard to ensure a level playing field to start?
Personally, I hope the FCC does mandate AllVid, and that it has some teeth. I think they were too soft with CableCARD, especially in allowing tru2way, which was so unloved it seems everyone, cable and CE industry alike, are mostly trying to forget about it.
Via Multichannel News.