Monday, July 16, 2007

DVRs n us in year 2010+

I read an article in the WSJ ( today which spoke about how cable companies are incorporating DVR technology into their service offerings. DVR or Digital Video Recorder technology enables the wonderful convenience of time shifting using which users can watch their programs at any time after the broadcast. Many also provide convenience features such as the facility to cut out advertisements from the broadcast.

The article says that 50% of US cable subscribers will have DVRs by 2010 and goes on to predict that the DVR will become an essential aspect of the TV experience.

When this happens, TV will no longer be, well, TV. What a DVR offers is very titillating to my geek sense: A time travel feature as far as my TV is concerned, something that has more potential than just geek excitement.

The PVR is yet another acknowledgment of the limitations of our unicasting infrastructure for VOD. If there was infinite network capacity and infinite server capacity then no content provider would allow content caching on users' PVRs (even if it was DRMed). This mental block is noted in the WSJ article, but now cable companies see the value ($) of promoting PVR technology. The truth is that PVRs enable a whole bunch of services that were just not possible with the current unicast infrastructure for VOD. Lets talk a little about these golden nuggets for the service providers.

1. Directed ad-insertion: Yep I know we all think that PVRs are supposed to cut out the ads. But imagine the mouth watering preposition of inserting a car ad when daddy is watching the Simpsons and inserting a Harry Potter trailer when little Johnny sees the show. The Simpsons program downloads once, but the directed ads get inserted at the Q-tone according to who is watching.

2. Promise of large scale VOD: Its true: supporting concurrent VOD through having a centralized server is just not feasible with present bandwidth (including ADSL 2+) or server capacity. This explains why even P2P video technologies like Joost feverishly download and cache content when a user is not watching. The short bursty duty cycle of watching TV in the day (meaning people watch TV for maybe an hour every day on average) is a great opportunity to cache content on the local PVR during the downtime.

3. The battle for the boss-box of the living room: The battle to become the defacto box of the living room is on. Is it going to be the game consoles like X-boxes and Sony PS*s with their growing hard disks that can double as PVRs? Or will they be service providers" set-top-boxes/PVRs? Any of these stake-holders would love to win over the eye-balls and ear-drums of the whole family.

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