Freedom from the Set-Top Box?

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In America, a new  industry alliance joins the struggle to wrest TV control from cable companies and private network operators.

Newly-founded by Best Buy, Google, Mitsubishi Digital Electronics, Nagravision, SageTV, Sony Electronics and TiVo, the AllVid Tech Company Alliance will support an " AllVid open gateway" to integrating video services into home networks.

Cable TV"AllVid" is a CableCARD replacement proposed by the government's FCC-- hardware and software standards for a universal adapter for pay TV content, delivered via cable TV, satellite TV, VDSL, IPTV and Internet TV.

Their National Broadband Plan (better see our article the EC's own Broadband programme) spoke about a "gateway" that would be a simple device, provided by a "Multichannel Video Programming Distributor" to support consumers' own devices on their systems.

Working just like cable (or DSL modem) does for Internet content, this new approach woul kill proprietary set-top boxes, letting TVs, media and game players, computers, and mobile devices, and other "Over The Top" devices. But it still lets MVPD design their own box or create their own style of software interface (as long as they are compatible to a nationally dictated standard).

That sounds heavy-handed with government intervention in the marketplace for a country that prides itself on "the government that governs best is the one that governs least." Yet, how do you think America standardized on one unifying TV standard that gave more citizens access to that channel of modern communication?

The AllVid Tech Company Alliance members argue (like in the case of TV standards)  the Allvid gateway inspires  tech innovation, stimulates private sector investment (government-speak for "jobs"), and more plugged-in consumers.

Best Buy highlighted its own involvement by saying, "Best Buy looks forward to working with the Alliance members, the FCC and our MVPD partners in creating a consumer-friendly retail market for the next generation of advanced video services and devices that deliver them."

In other words, AllVid, if it succeeds, will shift opportunity to retail and vendors and erode the position of cable companies and others who have established interconnect relationships where they own the customer's TV.  The provider of subscription video controls every use of that video and when IP and TV come together--- that provider can become a throttle to the internet and connected living.

If no one else can sell consumers devices that allow access to both online and pay-TV programming, then only the pay-TV provider will be able to sell integrated devices.  Every consumer will be forced into monthly rentals, high-priced non-ending relationships with devices that they don’t own.  And if the pay-TV provider decides to offer an integrated device, they’ll have control over what Internet access they are allowed.

Without cracking open the relationship between programming and devices, a free market in new integrated consumer media experiences in USA won’t exist-- say the alliance supporters.

For example, Comcast is working on an IP connection in Comcast’s leased STB devices where you’ll only be able to access the web sites Comcast wants you to see. Why should Comcast get to decide what the Internet looks like?

In America, the cable TV/pay TV have outplayed the telecom companies for internet delivery to the home. So the situation compared to Europe is not exactly the same, but device makers everywhere will fight for the right for those devices to be unleashed.

Go AllVid