Is TV Everywhere the Solution to the Set-top Box War?

Things got a little heated when device makers and cable representatives debated the future of the set-top box at the TV of Tomorrow Show in San Francisco today. TiVo (s TIVO) senior vice president and general counsel Matthew Zinn argued that cable companies should open up access to their interactive and on-demand programming in order to enable an open set-top box market. “You need access to the same content as the cable box,” he said, demanding that it was up to the FCC to ensure open access to this type of content. “This is not a question of technology, it’s a question of policy,” he added.
Paul Glist from Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who has been representing cable companies in their filings with the FCC, countered by questioning TiVo’s business model and platform design. “Consumers don’t want to be buying devices,” he said, adding that it was TiVo’s own decision not to support tru2way.
Zinn was more than happy to toss the ball back into big cable’s court. “Tru2way for retail is dead,” he said, arguing that a variety of different implementations, an inflexible user interface and the lack of a nationwide rollout would make it impossible to make money with selling tru2way-enabled devices directly to customers. Zinn also reminded his audience that tru2way wasn’t the only cable technology that didn’t live up to its promise of promoting interoperability. “Every day in America consumers are denied cable cards,” he said, explaining that TiVo receives cable card horror stories almost on a daily basis from its users.
Malachy Moynihan, VP of engineering at Cisco (s CSCO), tried to remind both sides that consumers are increasingly looking elsewhere while the industry is fighting about cable regulation. “The world is changing, and people are spending more time on other media,” he said, proposing that both content providers and device makers need to look at offering consumers choice to access content across different platforms. “We probably face some of the same risks that the music industry faced,” he mused,
“and we are not going to solve this by building better protection.”
Zinn and Gilst actually managed to find common ground on TV Everywhere. Zinn said that TiVo would love to include TV Everywhere content on its new TiVo Premiere devices. TV Everywhere should be available just like Netflix is available,” he said. Gilst said that TV Everywhere is designed to run on a lot of hardware devices. “We’re probably not so far away on that,” he agreed, but added that it didn’t need regulation to make this happen.
Today’s debate was largely a response to the FCC’s recent inquiry into the cable innovation. TiVo had used its filing late last year to blame cable companies for the lack of innovation in the set-top box space and demand more regulation to open up two-way services. TiVo’s position got support from a separate filing from Public Knowledge, whose staff attorney John Bergmayer reminded us today that cable companies used to be on the other side of this debate not too long ago. “We believe innovation comes from outsiders,” he explained, adding: Cable used to be an outsider that the broadcasters tried to sue out of business.”
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