Ruling boon to cable firms, customers. COPYRIGHT: Remote recorders save cable providers and subscribers money

For the London Free Press - July 27, 2009 Read this on Canoe

On July 6, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an appeal by a number of film studios and television networks of a ruling that allows Cablevision Systems Corp. to provide a new online digital video recorder service.

It works like a typical digital video recorder (DVR) that lets us record and play back TV programs, except that instead of being recorded on a device next to your TV, it would be done on a drive at a Cablevision facility.

The studios and networks argued that Cablevision's new service violates copyright laws, since the company does not have a licence to copy their programs.

The studios and networks -- including Time Warner Inc., News Corp., CBS Corp. and Walt Disney Co. -- were successful at the New York federal trial in 2007. But that decision was overturned at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last summer.

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeals ruling, which states that the new service by Cablevision will not directly infringe the copyrights of the media companies that produce movies and television programs.

In 2006, Cablevision announced plans to offer the new service, called Remote Storage Digital Video Recorder (RS-DVR, which would let viewers record TV programs on the cable operator's computers instead of a DVR box.

The service saves Cablevision money by not having to pay for the DVR boxes and their installation. Cablevision said the reduction in costs would let them cut prices for the service, leading to more subscribers.

From the perspective of the viewer, the RS-DVR is basically the same as the DVR.

The next logical step would be to record a given program only once for the first person to set it up -- then all the customers who "recorded" it could play that same one back. That would avoid recording a particular show once for each customer who wants it, which could be thousands of times. That is getting close to a video-on-demand model that would require cable companies to obtain rights to provide.

The current ruling, however, requires cable operators to create recordings for each user of the service. This requires more storage space and bandwidth than if one could simply watch a program someone else already saved.

Various cable companies, such as Comcast and Time Warner, say they would introduce a similar service if the Cablevision service was found to be legal.

The top court's refusal to hear this appeal has set the stage for wider adoption of remote DVR services.

One studio and network concern is people tend to skip commercials when watching recorded programs. Though DVR viewers watch less than half the commercials that non-DVR viewers, DVR viewers watch more television.

Cablevision has expressed a willingness to work with studios and networks "to give our customers what they want -- full DVR functionality through existing digital set-top boxes -- and at the same time, deliver real benefits to advertisers."