By Steve Effros Dead End The programming community is heading down the wrong road, and I suspect that if they don’t rethink their direction, they will lead us all down a dead end. Instead of focusing on the many creative ways to provide new and value-added services connected to their products, some programmers are trying to revisit old issues and live in a business model past that no longer exists… and can’t be recreated. Some program owners (not all of them) are trying to maim or kill consumer adoption of DVRs. It’s a big mistake, and it will ultimately fail. But in the meantime, other potential opportunities will slip away as programmers try to recreate the distant pre-BetaMax-case past, and those opportunities will be lost. The first step in the effort to stop DVR penetration is the court challenge to the Cablevision proposal to provide "network" DVR’s. The oral argument in that case took place the other day, and it didn’t sound good. Cablevision could lose this round. The most significant thing about the case is that the issue is not really focused on the "network" part of what the DVR does but on the nature of the service itself. In other words, the programmers don’t concede that an individual has the right to record and manage how they view programming they have purchased via cable. Reading between the lines, that means programmers are trying to make a major distinction between the old VCR technology and this new digital DVR service technology. They want to say it should not be allowed. As usual, this is a fight over how program owners can maximize the revenue they receive from their copyrighted product. I have no issue with that, but I think there are ways to do it without harming the equally important rights of our customers to use and enjoy that product how they see fit—so long as they don’t destroy its value by indiscriminately distributing it to others. What the programmers want, apparently, is to go back to the days when consumers didn’t have the ability to record and manage video in the home. As I have argued many times before, it shouldn’t make any difference how long the cord is between the hard drive and the electronics that control it. A DVR, whether "networked" or not, should be allowed to be in the total control of the customer. But these folks really want to go farther and say that digital recording and management in the home, no matter how it is done, should be stopped. Too late, folks. It is already in the home. Consumers are already both used to doing it and like it a lot. Re-fighting the BetaMax case is ultimately going to waste valuable time. Valuable for what? Designing new services. Cable operators are experimenting with ways to add value by starting a program from the beginning even if you get to the set late, or archiving. Or offering the same program with or without commercials, or without the ability to "fast forward." Cable operators can be partners in all of this but not if everyone has already bought a DVR. If the value added services are of interest to customers and reduce their desire to buy a DVR to use in the home, great! The "network" services become more attractive than the device. The "threat" of the DVR becomes an opportunity. If you want to change the consumer’s approach, that’s the way to do it, not by law suits.

The Daily

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