Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Victory in Cablevision DVR Case...For Now

Several cable networks filed a suit two years ago that attempted to stop U.S. cable operator Cablevision from creating a network digital video recorder (DVR). The product would allow Cablevision customers to record programming onto a central network in the home rather than to the cable box itself. Naturally, the protests echo two words we've heard many times before in the consumer electronics arena: unauthorized reproduction. Not to mention that customers will continue to be able to skip through commercials, making it that much more difficult to sell advertising between programming.

The argument that such a DVR would be "reproducing" work is, in my opinion, ridiculous. The customer would be storing and/or "reproducing" the content for use in his own home; maybe to watch at a later date, maybe to watch two or three times, and yes, probably to watch while flipping past the commercials. Either way, it's like he's taking a CD in playing it in the stereo in his living room versus his portable Walkman. Does it really matter where or how he enjoys the content if he's paid for it?

The latter point about skipping over TV commercials is one that has become a real bone of contention in the TV world. But many networks have, rather than sit with their arms folded and bottom lips in the pout position, picked up on new and more clever ways to incorporate advertising within the actual content rather than in between it. This ranges from blatent product placements (even more so than usual), to in-show, one-minute rants about a product. I've even seen entire movie trailers being shown during a TV program, and touted as an "exclusive first look". Really, you're being tricked into thinking that by watching this show, you get to see this trailer while no one else does. But in actuality, you're watching a commercial without even knowing it!

The reality is that, despite the pushback from networks who insist upon getting rid of new technology devices like the DVR in question, traditional TV advertising as we know it simply won't continue forever. While some might frown upon the in-show ads, we do need to understand that someone or something needs to pay the bills. Some actors, like daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres and nighttime talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, have even been said to add humour to the product pitches so that they become part of the program in a seamless and entertaining way.

We can certainly expect the networks involved to appeal the New York court's decision that overturned the ruling, and will essentially let the product be made. Nevertheless, the Financial Times cites Cablevision as saying that it will "waste no time in rolling out the technology."

While this case only pertains to laws in the U.S., it could certainly spill over to places like Canada, where we have our own battles with copyright law, DRM restrictions, and unauthorized (or perceived to be unauthorized) content reproduction.

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