Last week Suddenlink Communications said it would distribute co-branded TiVo Premiere DVRs as well as non-DVR set-top boxes. This news followed on the heels of a similar announcement from RCN and TiVo in May.

For tier-two operators like Suddenlink and RCN, TiVo Premiere provides a way to offer interactive TV services, while bypassing the Motorola/Cisco duopoly. The TiVo partnership also allows these operators to move ahead with interactivity without having to wait for EBIF and tru2way. TiVo Premiere combines access to cable programming, video on demand (VOD) content, Web videos, and music all in one box.

SeaChange International provides VOD services for both RCN and Suddenlink and assisted both operators in integrating the TiVo boxes with their existing VOD infrastructures.

Pete Abel, a spokesman for Suddenlink, said in an email, the TiVo boxes would have separable security, complying with CableCARD requirements.

But Kim Wilson, VP of business development with SeaChange, indicated that security was a bit more complicated than that. [Editor’s clarification: SeaChange doesn’t deal directly with security issues, but assisted with implementing a solution that gives devices with CableCARD a return path without the need for tru2way.]

"The issue we’re trying to solve is that the current implementation for host devices with CableCARD does not support a return path," said Wilson. "The current implementation for CableCARD does QAM video delivery very well, whether VOD or digital cable. We tied that together with an Internet connection to browse the VOD catalog and provide the return path."

Besides providing a VOD return path, the Internet connection will permit access to interactive applications. YouTube, Pandora, Rhapsody, and Fandango were all mentioned in the Suddenlink announcement. But TiVo’s Ethernet connection to the Internet opens up all kinds of interactive possibilities for the future.

"While specific third-party, over-the-top sources have not yet been confirmed, the intent is to enable access to various Internet video content," said Abel. "The experience we intend to deliver is effectively the same experience a consumer would have with one of the relevant TiVo boxes purchased at retail, with the exception that the Tivo-Suddenlink boxes will integrate with Suddenlink’s VOD library."

Neither SeaChange, nor Suddenlink, nor TiVo would describe the technical details to integrate TiVo into the existing infrastructure.

Wilson said, "What was necessary was someone to figure out all the infrastructure to deliver video on the right QAM channel and coordinate with the VOD server in the headend. It’s not different than what we do in the legacy space. It’s just a matter of how you take that and support a retail device. How it’s done is radically different."

Wilson did say that traditionally, the signaling information sent from the set-top to the headend was handled by Aloha (in a Motorola system). With TiVo boxes and their Ethernet connection, "the idea of connecting to an MSO application sitting on a server in their headend is not that much of a stretch."

Suddenlink expects to launch TiVo DVRs in certain markets in fourth quarter 2010 and will look to significantly expand deployment in 2011. But the company isn’t replacing its existing set-tops.

"We are making a significant commitment to the TiVo boxes and will continue to support our current boxes," said Abel. "All set-top equipment available through Suddenlink is leased."

-Linda Hardesty

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