Cablevision‘s announcement this week to trial a network digital recorder system was certainly a shot across the bow of programmers, but its customers will be able to enjoy the benefits of stored programming without the added clutter of a DVR in their living rooms. Cablevision will conduct a trial in the second quarter of this year with about 1,000 “friendlies” in the Long Island area, with the goal of a commercial deployment later this year. Cablevision said in a press release that it expects to give all of its existing 2 million digital cable customers DVR functionality with their existing set-top boxes by using its network DVR system, which it calls remote-storage digital video recorder (RS-DVR).  Cablevision didn’t put a price tag on its RS-DVR service, but it expects the cost savings to be passed on to customers. “It’s a much more practical solution for both the consumer and the cable operator,” said Yankee Group analyst Adi Kishore. “The cable operator is saving on the cost of the set-top box, which is a replicated cost for the subscriber. It’s also better for the cable operator because you want the subscriber more closely tied to the network, which the cable operator controls, rather than a device that can be bought anywhere or exchanged. Of course, the big advantage is over satellite (providers) because they can’t do it.” Instead of recording a show on a home DVR, customers can select and record shows that are stored on servers in Cablevision’s headend. The RS-DVR functionality that will be tested in the trial will allow customers to store roughly 45 hours of programming, or approximately 80 gigabytes, in their own dedicated space on Cablevision’s headend. Subscribers will be able to watch two programs at the same time while taping a third. Finding the bandwidth Kishore said the network DVR service would have an impact on a cable system’s bandwidth. While Cablevision didn’t provide any details on how its RS-DVR was installed and provisioned, the company has deployed switched digital in some of its New York area footprint. One of the benefits of switched digital is clearing up additional bandwidth since the shows or programs are being sent only to the viewers who are requesting them at that time. “It (RS-DVR) has a very significant impact on bandwidth, and it has a pretty significant impact on ingest, on being able to process fairly large numbers of video streams simultaneously,’ Kishore said. “From a technology standpoint, they’ve obviously looked at this and feel they can do it. Maybe they do have the (bandwidth) capacity in some parts of the system or in some nodes, but this does have an impact on bandwidth, and switched broadcast does help essentially create bandwidth. It (switched broadcast) also clears up bandwidth for other things like high definition, higher cable modem speeds, VoIP and VOD.” Wrestling with lawyers Cablevision isn’t the first to try the yellow-brick road of network DVRs. Several years ago Time Warner Cable created a network DVR service called Maestro, but eventually backed away from the plan after programming networks raised copyright concerns. Elements of Maestro resurfaced this year with TWC’s Start Over service, which allows customers to go back to the beginning of a show that is already in progress. Start Over doesn’t allow customers to fast forward over commercials, but it’s not clear if Cablevision’s customers will be able to fast-forward over commercials. “Time Warner sort of struck out because the programmers said ‘No, you can’t do this with our content,'” Kishore said. “I don’t know if any of those issues have really changed. Functionally, it’s (Cablevision’s RS-DVR) the exact same as a DVR in your house where you record content for your own personal use; they’re just using the network instead. The right to record content for your own personal use is essentially what is covered under the VCR ruling.” Cablevision is banking that its network DVR service is allowed under the Sony Betamax copyright ruling.  In the press release, Cablevision said it believes the service is permissible by copyright law. “It will come down to arm twisting and lawyers,” Kishore predicted. “Ultimately, it’s a legal issue.”

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