[opendtv] Re: FCC CHAIRMAN PROPOSAL TO UNLOCK THE SET-TOP BO
- From: Craig Birkmaier <brewmastercraig@xxxxxxxxxx>
- To: OpenDTV Mail List <opendtv@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 2 Feb 2016 14:14:09 -0500
On Feb 2, 2016, at 11:15 AM, Daniel Grimes <dan.grimes@xxxxxxxx> wrote:
"There is nothing new needed for any of this, and much less is there any
excuse to continue to think in terms of requiring a separate stand-alone STB.”
Thanks for jumping in on this Dan.
Obviously Bert does not understand the complexity of the issues; you may have
some misconceptions too.
Does this NPRM actually require the use of an STB or is this just saying that
if the MVPD does use one or the customer wants one, the FCC is requiring
As was the case with Cable Card, the required hardware can be built into the
TV, although, as I stated yesterday, and you clarify later in this message,
this makes little sense.
If no STB, what instead? I know Bert likes to use a computer for streaming
programming, but isn't that just another form of the STB?
Yes, Bert’s computer is an example of a third party device.
It may be helpful to go way back to the breakup of Ma Bell, which opened up the
market for devices that could connect to the telco networks.
We not only saw intense competition for wired handsets, but very quickly we saw
devices with internal memory for frequently called numbers, answering machines,
and wireless handsets. It is way too early to tell what kinds of innovation can
happen with the devices that connect to the MVPD services and the Internet. But
we can extrapolate off of what already exists.
IMHO, we will see all manner of devices that connect to displays via HDMI. some
will offer everything we expect today from the cable boxes and the OTT Internet
boxes. The best example that exists today is the Tivo Bolt
This cable card device offers the following capabilities:
- Access to live linear MVPD streams (note that it does not access PPV and VOD,
- DVR with advanced functions - commercial skipping and fast viewing of
- Multi room streaming via WiFi;
- Streaming to tablets, smartphones and laptops both in home via WiFi and via
the internet (like SlingBox);
- Access to OTT services including 4K support.
In order to do this it incorporates:
- MVPD demods and security via cable card;
- Internet access and IP support;
- h.264 transcoding and WiFi streaming;
- DVR functionality;
- 4K support
- HDMI interconnect.
It is worth noting that the immediate response from the MVPDs was “why is this
necessary? Just look at the Tivo Bolt.” It is also worth noting that 2-way
services are still not supported.
In the scenario with using a computer functioning as an STB, I am not sure
the content owners are going to allow local cashing. I suppose one might
argue that with IP based media, no local cashing is necessary. But I can
think of lots of reasons why local caching is important.
Wheeler’s proposal addresses this in the second bullet I noted yesterday:
"Entitlements: Information about what a device is allowed to do with content,
such as recording.”
The primary issue with recording is to prevent theft.
- You cannot hook a VCR up to a cable box and transfer a program.
- You cannot access a cached program or transfer those bits to another storage
device on a PC designed to act as a DVR.
As long as the recorded bits remain behind the “DRM firewall” local recording
will be legal, as it is now with Tivo Bolt with Cable Card DRM.
I’m not sure how Tivo sends these bits over the Internet to your mobile devices
- possibly using their own software DRM.
Markets already exist - e.g. Amazon and iTunes - for the sale and rental of
downloadable programming. When you buy the content the DRM system allows you to
copy and play the bits on a few authorized devices. If you rent the content you
usually have a window of 24 hours to view , after you begin playback.
I can also see a market for local caching of OTT streams, if for no other
reason that to conserve bits on broadband services that have data caps.
I suppose a TV manufacturer can build the STB functions into their TV, but
that would limit each MVPD from using whatever standard they choose, unless a
new common standard could be determined. Perhaps that is what this FCC
document is proposing.
And it doesn't address the demodulation, unless you put a requirement on the
TV to be able to demodulate every kind of standard, which doesn't seem
Panasonic tried and gave up with Tru 2-Way. The cable card standard only
The host device must handle demodulation and audio and video decoding. Thus the
host must accommodate the different modulations standards, just as TVs still
support analog broadcast and cable standards, ATSC, and the various QAM
At best, the end result of this process would be for everyone to move to some
form of IP transport.
Of course, I am guessing that with Bert's desire for all media to go only IP
based, he would like to make the MVPD basically only a VMVPD and turn the
network connection over to a third party. I think that would kill certain
business models and might actually stifle competition.
That may be what Bert desires, but it is unlikely that this would be the end
The FCC was careful to note:
Copyright Protection and Distribution: Honoring the sanctity of contracts
The proposal maintains important aspects of the traditional video distribution
regime, such as protections against copyright infringement and theft of
service. The proposal is clear – the Commission will not interfere with the
business relationships between MVPDs and their content providers or between
MVPDs and their customers. The proposal does not change a company's ability to
package and price its programming to its subscribers.
- Maintains strong protections for copyrighted content: Copyrights and
licensing agreements will remain in place, and copyrighted content will be
protected from piracy much as it is protected under the existing CableCARD
regime. Similarly, the proposal honors the limits on the use of programming
agreed upon between cable companies and content providers (e.g., ability to
- Existing content distribution deals, licensing terms, and conditions will
remain unchanged. These deals made between MVPDs and content providers are not
affected by this proposal. MVPDs retain their customers and will still get a
monthly fee for the subscription service that the MVPD provides. The only
change the FCC is proposing is to allow consumers alternative means of
accessing the content they pay for.
MVPDS can still use a portion of their bandwidth for protected in-band IP
Multicasts of their existing Live linear programming. This does not make this
content available outside the point-of-presence of the umbilical service.
Likewise DBS systems can move to IP transport, without exposing these bits to
the public internet.
The ability to access MVPD content outside the POP is obviously possible via
TVE or devices like Sling Box and the Tivo Bolt. But this content is already
DRM protected by the devices streaming to another device via the Internet.
Becoming a VMVPD service is not a technical issue. It is a licensing issue.
“Existing content distribution deals” may have geographic restrictions,
especially cable and FIOS systems. The DBS systems have national footprints,
which pissed off local franchising authorities for cable and FIOS, since the
FCC authorization specifically blocks local taxing authorities from taxing
these services. As a result, many States stepped in and started taxing DBS
service, the proceeds of which are then distributed to local entities such as
Ultimately, the authorization of VMVPD services lies with the content owners.
Sling TV from Dish is a VMVPD service but lacks local broadcast stations. Sony
Play Station Vue offers service in a handful of markets where they have been
able to negotiate carriage of local stations, but Disney refuses to license
ESPN to Sony. As we have seen, Apple and Intel have not been able to create
VMVPD services that offer a subset of the big MVPD bundles.
As much as I don't care for multiple devices connected to my TV, I think STBs
still have strong economic and practical applications. We have not yet been
able to turn the TV (or any screen) into a "black box" that can be programmed
to do anything. And we clearly have seen the STBs turn into small devices
that can be as simple as and as small as being held by the HDMI port itself.
So why not allow the STB to improve and become more open?
Why not indeed! Congress asked the FCC to do this in 1995.
From my perspective it makes more sense to add this functionality via HDMI for
large TV displays. These devices may then make the content we pay for available
to other IP appliances as we see in many cable boxes and the Tivo Bolt. MVPD
subscribers already have access to much of the content they pay for via
Internet TVE sites.
We’re making progress, but it would be foolish to believe all of the details in
what the FCC is proposing could be ironed out in a matter of months, much less
a year or two. History suggests that this will be slow walked too.
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