Douglas Crockford

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February 2006

Who Will Buy TiVo?

TiVo has a brilliant product. I can't watch TV without it. I consider a TV without a TiVo attached to it to be broken and unusable. A lot of other people feel that way too.

TiVo has been unable to communicate its value to the general public. There is considerable doubt about TiVo's ability to go it alone. It might do better to be acquired by a company that is better able move product.

So who should buy TiVo? Perhaps Cisco, which recently bought Scientific-Atlanta, the cable gear maker. So might Motorola, which is also big in cable gear. Both companies make their own DVRs, and they reek. TiVo, if successfully integrated, could result in significantly better DVR capability, which is important as the DVR involves into the multimodal media hub. Integration, unfortunately, can be really difficult to do well.

Moving up the chain, a big MSO like Comcast might want TiVo in order to liberate itself from Cisco and Motorola. Paul Allen might want it for Charter, or to bolster Digeo, although the integration problem would be significantly more difficult. Microsoft could benefit from a system that is reliable and easy to use, but again, integration is difficult. Microsoft bought WebTV because it looked like a threat. TiVo is attractive, but not currently threatening.

AT&T might be looking at TiVo. It needs to differentiate its new IPTV services, and it also needs to undo some bad technical choices. A DVR produces less value in an IPTV configuration because in an On Demand world, the network is a virtual DVR.

I could also see Yahoo! or Google taking a look. The DVR is redefining the model of advertising. Controlling the best DVR platform could provide a significant advantage.

I could also see China Inc. or India Inc. buying TiVo to get a big leg up in media products and services. China has quickly created an amazing position in TV sets in a very short time. They should be looking to extend their base.

2009-02-17

Congress has passed the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. It now awaits the Presidential Signature. The Act causes all analog broadcasting licenses to be revoked on February 17, 2009. This will put an end to the broadcasting system that will have served us for 60 years. Congress intends to use some of that recovered spectrum for Public Safety applications. It will auction off the rest of it. Congress hopes to net $10B or more. That is more than enough money to fund the Department of Defense for a whole week.

Congress had been considering a January 1 date. They decided that it would be prudent to wait to kill television until after the Super Bowl.

The Analog Hole

One of the most obvious problems with DRM (Digital Rights Management) schemes is that they do not restrict media in the analog domain. Our human senses are analog, so at some point, if media is going to be consumed by humans, it must be converted to analog somehow, and at that point DRM is out of the picture. (DRM would work a lot better if there weren't humans.)

One of the many ways to free a program from its DRM restrictions is to convert it to analog, and then convert it back to digital. MPAA calls this The Analog Hole.

MPAA induced Representative James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wisconsin, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) and Representative John Conyers Jr. (D-Michigan, ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee) to introduce H.R.4569, The Digital Transition Content Security Act of 2005 (aka the Analog Hole Act). The bill seeks to make it illegal to produce a device with analog inputs and outputs (such as a computer or music player or DVR) unless those inputs and outputs can be made ineffective in the presence of copy protection signals from two secret, unproven, proprietary technologies. The impact on consumers: higher cost, less functionality, more complicated operation. The bill also sets the maximum length of time that material can be held for timeshifting to 90 minutes. This bill, should it pass, will have no effectiveness in stopping piracy.

This is evil. This bill must not be allowed to pass. Reps Sensenbrenner and Conyers, Jrs, would do well to renounce this bill and return MPAA's tainted money.

Public Knowledge

Gigi Sohn's Public Knowledge is my favorite Washington DC based advocacy group. They led last year's successful challenge of the FCC's dangerously bad Broadcast Flag rule. They recently sounded in on the issue of Net Neutrality. As usual, I think their position is completely reasonable.

The telcos do not want to be dumb pipes. They want to be able to give preferred carriage to services which they can monetize. They are not happy that you, as a customer of their internet services, can use their pipes to connect to sites which make money as a result of your interaction, while the telco itself makes no additional revenue (beyond the usual monthly fee). They feel that they are being cheated somehow, so they are seeking ways to reconfigure the internet so that they can take a bigger piece of the action.

Recent Supreme Court and FCC rulings define broadband networks as unregulated information services, which means that the operators of broadband networks are no longer under any legal obligation to keep their networks open to all internet content, services, and equipment. Public Knowledge says that this should be corrected, and I agree.