Cable Operators

Standalone CableCards Rose 8% in 2012

NCTA: Top Nine MSOs Have Deployed 39 Million CableCard Set-Tops to Date, Up 22% From a Year Ago 2/01/2013 6:28 AM Eastern

The nine largest cable operators in the U.S. have deployed about 600,000 standalone CableCards to date for use with TiVo DVRs and other retail devices -- an annual increase of 8% -- while those same MSOs have rolled out more than 39 million operator-supplied set-tops with CableCards, a 22% increase from 32 million a year ago.

That’s according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association’s quarterly report Thursday to the Federal Communications Commission on CableCards.

The five biggest cable operators -- Cablevision Systems, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable -- have deployed over 569,000 standalone CableCards, according to NCTA.

CableCards, developed by CableLabs, provide authentication and encryption to access cable TV programming. Under the FCC's "integration ban," which went into effect on July 1, 2007, operators are required to use CableCards in their own set-tops. The integrated set-top ban was supposed to foster better MSO support for retail devices that use CableCards. But the policy has failed to deliver the FCC's hoped-for surge in sales among third-party cable-ready navigation devices.

TiVo, in a Jan. 22 ex parte filing with the FCC, outlined meetings with agency staff in which the DVR company emphasized the continued importance of the CableCard rules and enforcing them.

The CableCard standard ensures manufacturers can build products that will work across different MSOs and CableCard “has also allowed for greater competition among manufacturers providing set-top boxes to cable operators and other MVPDs, leading to innovation and lower costs to operators and, in turn, to consumers,” TiVo said. For example, the company said, because of the CableCard standard, TiVo has been able to enter into deals with several smaller cable operators to supply operator-provided DVRs and/or DVR software to their subscribers.

Charter, for one, last fall requested a waiver of the CableCard rules to deploy set-top boxes that support downloadable security but also include integrated security, rather than a CableCard. The MSO, in an FCC filing this week, said the cost of including a CableCard and card interface in its current set-top boxes is between $40 and $50 range -- while for devices that support downloadable security, the added cost for CableCard support is even more. According to Charter, a CableCard-enabled version of its box with downloadable security would cost about 40% more than a version that omits the CableCard.

“The reason for the significant differential is that the technology and price of the box for which Charter seeks a waiver have been built from a non-U.S. set-top with integrated security to which downloadable security has been added,” the MSO said.

But TiVo, in its filing last week, argued that, “Weakening CableCard rules via waivers, lack of enforcement, or other means hurts innovation and retail choice, thwarting the common reliance goal of the CableCard rules. Allowing operators to deploy set-top boxes that do not rely on the common CableCard standard would permit them to offer additional services, features, or functionality not available to CableCard devices and would put retail devices at a disadvantage, at odds with the clear command of Section 629.”

Three years ago, the FCC proposed a successor to the CableCard regime, dubbed "AllVid," which would force all multichannel video programming distributors -- including satellite and telco TV providers -- to deliver video to third-party hardware devices using a common set of technical interfaces.

Since then, consumer-electronics companies have pushed the FCC to enact some kind of IP-based AllVid requirement on MVPDs but so far the commission has not proceeded with any new rules on this front.

September