You know there’s going to be a showdown over some communications technology issue when Google, Best Buy, Mitsubishi, Sony, TiVo and two other big companies start a new group with the word “alliance” in it. Sure enough, the septet has announced that they’ve united to defend the Federal Communications Commission’s new proposal for an “AllVid” standard that would make it easier for consumers to watch both pay television and the video they get from their home broadband network on the same screen.
Thus has been born the “AllVid Tech Company Alliance”—named in honor of the FCC’s suggested gateway interface.
“It is essential for the Commission to break down the wall separating the home network from [pay TV] networks—not just poke a few holes in it, or rely on progress on the peripheries,” the Alliance wrote to the FCC on Wednesday. “The seeds for real competition must emerge in chips, technologies, and interfaces that can be organic to tens of millions of products, services, and consumer uses—not just those presently conceived, but those that innovative minds, and users who can select and adapt their own devices, can conceive.”
How would AllVid break down this wall? FCC Chair Julius Genachowski described the gadget ten months ago, indicating cable, satellite, or telco video providers would send their signals to “a small adapter on the customer’s premises that would present a standard interface to all consumer devices.”
AllVid could be connected to TVs, computers—pretty much anything that can show multichannel video or Internet fare. Thus Internet and multichannel TV would be integrated.
The FCC is proposing this as a replacement for its failed CableCard device—the data/security card that was supposed to let consumers pick their own set-top box. Its limited capabilities made it a flop on the video device market.
Ignoring legal rights?
Can you think of any high-profile consumer product that is just dying for this new standardized gizmo to become a fact on the ground? That’s right: Google TV. The HDTV system integrates Internet and pay TV content, but Google, Sony and the gang don’t want to spend years coaxing suspicious broadcasters, content providers, and cable networks into content deals. They want a device standard in which Internet and cable content are interchangeable now (or relatively close to now).
Needless to say, the cable companies are far less enthusiastic about this idea. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association has thrown a host of theoretical roadblocks in front of AllVid. “Sony/Google are asking the Commission to ignore copyright, patent, trademark, contract privity, licensing, and other legal rights and limitations that have been thoroughly documented,” the NCTA warned the FCC last week.
Clearly, the AllVid Alliance is a response to the cable industry’s opposition to this idea.
“Despite some recent progress in making television smart and connected, unless the Commission pursues a gateway approach[,] consumers will not have the sort of open and innovative competitive market to which they are entitled,” the AllVid coalition told the FCC.
The group says it wants the Commission to make a specific AllVid plan available for public comment as soon as possible.