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Ernest Miller Ernest Miller pursues research and writing on cyberlaw, intellectual property, and First Amendment issues. Mr. Miller attended the U.S. Naval Academy before attending Yale Law School, where he was president and co-founder of the Law and Technology Society, and founded the technology law and policy news site LawMeme. He is a fellow of the Information Society Project at Yale Law School. Ernest Miller's blog postings can also be found @

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October 20, 2003

Future of Digital TV Threatened By More Than Broadcast Flag

Posted by Ernest Miller

The Broadcast Flag issue is incredibly important, see, among many others Copyfight (What's the Deal?). Then let your Reps, Senators and the FCC Commissioners know how you feel, either through EFF or

However, the Broadcast Flag isn't the only issue that puts the future of unrestricted digital television in doubt. Case in point, the New York Times (reg. req.) reports on what may be the coming death of stand alone personal media recorders, such as TiVo (Can Cable Fast-Forward Past TiVo?). A couple of quotes to consider:

"This really is the last stand for the stand-alone boxes; this is a dying product," Aditya Kishore, an analyst for the Yankee Group, a technology consulting research firm in Boston, said in a telephone interview. "This is the last Christmas for the stand-alone TiVo box, or any stand-alone DVR box. By next year, the DVR functionality will be widely available in a wide range of other devices, including the set-top boxes."
"We believe that over time, DVR technology is going to be the standard," said Mark W. Jackson, an EchoStar senior vice president. "Everyone is going to have it. It's just a question of when - and who they get it from, of course."

I certainly hope that the Yankee Group analyst is wrong, because otherwise the question asked by Mr. Jackson becomes much more important. What the NY Times is reporting is that the cable and satellite companies are bundling personal media recorder capabilities with their services and this will eliminate the market for independent devices. The problem with this is that it also gives the cable and satellite companies control over the function of such devices. Skipping commercials, recording anything you want, and networking the device with other devices will almost certainly be restricted. Sounds an awful lot like the broadcast flag.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Broadcast Flag | Digital Rights Management | Open Access | Telecomm


1. Mike Murphy on October 20, 2003 05:20 PM writes...

I think there is a disconnect in your argument. TiVo is going to have troubles because the cables companies are going to give the customers what they want. This includes the skipping functions, rewind, save, etc. that the DVR's offer. If they DON'T give this functionality to the customers than the market for stand alone DVR's will still exist and TiVo (or someone else) will continue to offer those products. If a cable company gives you a sub-standard DVR option you have the right to NOT get it and buy yourself an after market version. Problem solved. Either the cable companies give the customer what they want or someone else will.

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2. Ernest Miller on October 20, 2003 06:20 PM writes...

I certainly hope that you are right. However, there are a number of issues that go against your logic. First, integration with the cable box is a superior method of ensuring that customers are able to get the programs that they want. For example, I can't get a season pass for the Food TV Network on my TiVo because the scheduling is messed up. I have to manually set the thing to record Iron Chef 3 hours different than what TiVo thinks it is. This morning, I tried to watch last night's Sopranos. Unfortunately, because my TiVo has to talk to the cable box through IR, it mistakenly recorded another channel. This doesn't happen all that often, but it is frustrating when it does. Furthermore, my TiVo requires a separate phone line ... a cable box requires no separate lines. Small issues, but ones which give the integrated box a significant advantage.

Additionally, those companies that do try to create their own boxes will likely find themselves under legal attack, as ReplayTV was attacked by the MPAA. The MPAA and the cable companies, on the other hand, will likely come to a mutually beneficial relationship, certainly a relationship that will raise great barriers to entry for outside players.

Finally, cable companies have fought for the ability to exclude people from using devices that they don't like on their system (kind of like the old phone companies). They haven't been successful ... yet. Still, with things like the "Broadcast Flag" and other elements pointing towards increased control over our television infrastructure, the freedom to innovate and provide after market solutions might be limited.

While I hope that you are correct, I remain cynical.

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3. Mike R on October 21, 2003 08:43 AM writes...

I am tired of all the muti-tiered value added monthly subscription service crap.

I enjoy owning my VCR and not needing permission or paying a fee for its use. I already pay $6 a month for the additional Dish Receiver, which I own and paid for. Digital cable is the same way...1 receiver included, pay for the rest (although at least I don't have to buy the equipment).

I remember when, after much litigation, cable companies stopped charging extra for having more than 1 TV hooked up, but that was with basic cable. When you are forced to have thier equipment, you pay their fees and have no way around it.

$6 a month is $72 a year. Do that 3 or 4 times and it really adds up (extra for locals, extra for extra TV, extra for DVR, extra for HDTV).

I don't have a problem with the service providers offering extra services, but when they use technology and the DMCA to lock out competition, the prices really don't have to reflect the value.

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4. Jason T on November 6, 2003 04:22 AM writes...

I was an early adopter of Tivo and it revolutionized the way my family watches TV. As new media options begin to provide similar functionality, I will suggest that they will succeed only through ignorance of what a personal DVR provides in comparison.
1) Control of what is recorded, no only items available under corporate agreements.
2) Control of how long i want to keep a recording (Anyone want to see Dan Rather on his first interview after 9/11)
3) Effortless recording management by actor, actress, team, etc.
4) I can watch when cable is down or the clouds are overhead....even when the power is out.
5) I only watch superbowl you really think that the cable and satellite companies will cut their own throats and continue to allow you to skip ads?
6) Channel surfing....whats that. My wife would have it for this reason alone.

As far as paying a fee. If I add up the time I save not watching commercials and doing other more important things, I should be paying MUCH more than $10 a month. With two hours of viewing per night, you save about 40 minutes of time. Its about value added, not about what the service is worth. If you time isn't valuable, then please continue to channel surf.

Get a clue.....get a personal DVR.

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