NEW YORK – Comcast Corp. (CMCSA) and Time Warner Cable on Thursday threw their support behind fellow cable operator Cablevision's (CVC) plan to offer a digital video recording service that can replace DVR boxes.
The proposed new service will allow cable TV subscribers to record programs on Cablevision Systems Corp.'s network servers, which could do away with the need for digital video recorder boxes made by companies like Cisco Systems Inc.'s (CSCO) Scientific-Atlanta and by TiVo Inc. (TIVO) .
Cablevision said on Monday the service it called RS-DVR (remote-storage digital video recorder) would help cut costs, such as for installing and repairing DVR boxes.
"It's a great idea. I applaud it," Comcast Chief Operating Officer Stephen Burke said at the Bank of America Media, Telecommunications and Entertainment Conference.
He and John Martin, chief financial officer of Time Warner Inc.'s (TWX) Time Warner Cable, told the conference the cable industry was watching Cablevision's trial service and would likely follow suit if it proved successful.
One uncertainty is reaction to Cablevision's service by the TV networks, which have bristled at some of the cable industry's previous attempts to record shows on their systems before negotiating new broadcasting rights.
Cablevision argues nothing will be recorded on its network unless the viewer orders it from the remote control — an important difference from other failed experiments.
Earlier controversies had centered on Time Warner Cable's aborted Maestro service, which had proposed to automatically store programs on its network so viewers could order up just about any show that had been previously broadcasted.
The TV networks had argued that Maestro infringed on their copyrights, unless Time Warner Cable planned to pay networks more for the privilege.
"Our lawyers say Cablevision is on very firm footing so long as it's fair use [by the customer]," said Comcast's Burke.
He said a network recording service would help cable companies compete against satellite TV operators such as DirecTV (DTV) and EchoStar (DISH), which cannot cut the cost of the DVR box out of their pricing structure.
"If it happens, which I predict it will, I'm sure the rest of the industry will follow," Burke said.
The major TV networks have not publicly commented on Cablevision's plan.
Martin declined to comment on the legality of Cablevision's plan, but said Time Warner Cable's infrastructure had the capability to roll out a network DVR service.
"So if over time, this proves legal and if over time, this proves to be something that consumers want to do, we have the ability to bring that to them and that's what I think is sort of exciting and important," Martin said.
"So I'd say: stay tuned on this one."
Time Warner Cable began to test a service called "Start Over" in November that allows viewers who miss part of a live program to start from the beginning if the show is still in progress. Martin said Start Over was a network DVR concept that could be broadened out.
Cablevision said it plans to test the RS-DVR in its Long Island, New York, market for 60 days. It will require little more than a software download directly to existing cable set top boxes.
Cablevision said it is likely to introduce the service to its estimated 2.1 million digital cable subscribers later this year.
A spokeswoman for Scientific-Atlanta, which makes DVR boxes for Cablevision, said, "We still believe in the DVR. Consumers want to have the box in their homes."
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