Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Riveting, simply riveting...

Like most of you, I have been glued to my TV - not by coverage of historic federal legislation, or international unrest, or even by that old farmer entertainment favorite, weather - but by wall-to-wall coverage of some guy named Michael Jackson and his recent demise.

Perhaps newscasters are relieved to get back to a topic they are comfortable with.  And maybe most TV audiences are too.

But one happy bit of serendipity was stumbling across this piece of rather important (IMHO) TV news:

The Supreme Court cleared the way for Cablevision Systems Corp., a New York-based cable operator with more than 3 million subscribers, to deploy so-called remote storage DVRs. Unlike current DVRs, which record programs on a device in a customer's home, remote storage DVRs record them in a central location.
As of March, the penetration of DVRs in the United States was 30%, according to Nielsen. Because storing shows on a central server is so inexpensive compared with deploying devices, the ruling clears the way for Cablevision and other distrubutors to offer the service to consumers at very low or no cost.

The move is a blow to Hollywood, which had fought the technology all the way to the Supreme Court. Fox, NBC Universal, Paramount, CBS, Disney and other programmers argued that because Cablevision transmits recorded programs to consumers over its cable lines, the remote storage DVRs actually constitute a new on-demand service for which they should pay licensing fees.
Of course, what this is really about is advertising. Television executives are very worried about the ease with which consumers can skip advertisements while watching recorded programs via DVRs. [More]

But if you pause (heh) to think about it, this ruling may have enormous consequences.  Essentially all TV would be on demand if you subscribe to a recording service (i.e. cable or satellite). While not having troublesome hardware in our home sounds great to me (plus and easy way to watch anything on any TV - we I were was too cheap to buy more than one box), ponder what it means in the long run.

At first blush, this seems pretty unobjectionable. Under current U.S. law, it’s legal for a consumer to record television programs for later viewing. This is considered time-shifting, and was first made possible by the VCR. Conventional DVRs are high-tech cousins to VCRs, with a hard drive replacing the videotape. In the U.S., many cable and satellite companies provide boxes that include DVR functionality, generally for an additionally monthly fee.
Cablevision wants to offer DVR as a service instead of a device. Rather than recording 30 Rock on the box attached to your TV, the show will be recorded at Cablevision’s headquarters. Then, when you want to watch it, Cablevision will send the show to your television. If it works right, it should feel just like a normal DVR. Only without the cost of the DVR.
If Cablevision offers this service, I think it will be very successful. Less hardware means less things to break, and the service could presumably send a show to any TV in the house. (Some conventional DVRs can do that, but it’s often a hassle.) Plus, storage scales very well. Cablevision could offer a user much more recording space than a conventional DVR.
In fact, Cablevision could offer unlimited storage. And that’s where it gets dangerous.
Say Mary Jones sets her Cablevision RS-DVR to record 30 Rock. So does Bob Smith. Cablevision only needs to record it once. They can send the bits to Mary or Bob whenever one of them asks for it.
Given that Cablevision has more than four million customers, it’s a fair bet that at least one of their customers would be interested in any given show, so it makes sense for Cablevision to record and catalog every channel it distributes, 24/7/365.
Conventional DVRs only record what you ask them to record, with some modifiers, such as “new episodes of The Simpsons,” or “movies with Steven Seagal.” So for Cablevision’s service to work like a conventional DVR, it should only offer you programs you specifically chose to record. No fair waking up Friday and asking for last night’s The Office.
But wait. Cablevision is already recording every show. Why don’t they just offer a “Record Everything” option? [More]

With lower TV revenues, stuff like "I'm a Celebrity..." could float to the top of TV quality entertainment.

Some sore losers in the competition for advertising revenue see it as a possible playing field leveler.

Perhaps this win for DVR is also a win for print and online advertising revenue. If people can just fast-forward through their TV commercials, it's hard to understand why they would be any more effective than magazine or newspaper ads, in paper or online. That could begin to bridge the gap between what advertisers are willing to pay for TV and print/online advertising. As a result, maybe the DVR will save print journalism. I dare to dream. [More]

This strikes me as a stretch and at the very most, a long time coming as on-demand takes time to penetrate fully. But the point is taken.  If you can't beat 'em, cripple 'em.

Still, I won't miss those fragile recorders (lightning zaps ours routinely).  And maybe I'll only have to learn one final set of remote commands.  After all, rural America is the remote in "remote DVR".


buffalobill said...

Now...if there was only something on TV worth viewing?!

Anonymous said...

Great news if you live in an area with cable or satellite service. For some reason satellite doesn't work right here. And all those "new" stations that are supposed to be available with digital? Ha! Our choices are narrower than ever, even with our giant antenna that wrecks cell phone reception. Improvement my foot.

Anonymous said...

With the switch to digital tv going less well than many like, I can see the new DVR's becoming dominant in 2 years or less. The playing field will be leveled before the US Supreme court can possibly hear another pertinent case IMHO.