The SDV Threat

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I’ve changed my view on SDV so many times now, I have no idea what I think.

Warning Fellow TV Watchers:

Cable threatens to provide hundreds and hundreds more channels to you, even in HD. You may be able to get virtually anything you want anytime you choose.

Oh, those cable bad boys.

Look out and remember the Chinese curse; may you get what you want.

So what’s the worry? Well, all those one way cable card based devices we’ve been buying are going to be left out in the cold. You know, the 25,000 or so S3s and a couple million TVs. You mean there’s not going to be any viewable signal after cable snakes us? Well, who knows.

So here is the deal: Give most of the US population access to all that content or spare 25,000 TiVo users and some CC equiped TV watchers who may not give a shit anyway? Well, what to do?

SDV represents a revolution in the provision of video content to the nation. Sacrificing it for that paltry group would be a crime against the consumer. But it does not have to be all one way.

The digital TV transition is well underway. Cable is highly motivated to go all digital because it frees up capacity that analog uses to a far greater degree (around 10:1 for SD and 3:1 for HD) and because there ain’t gonna be no analog signals to be had sometime around February of 2009, so why create ’em?

Going all digital frees up alot of capacity. A modern cable system may have around 70 analog channels plus many digital and HD channels already. Those 70 analog channels represent either 700 SD or 210 HD channels, or a combination; SDV channels take the same space as non-SDV channels.

No system needs to allocate so many SDV channels; the systems are actually divided into nodes which have moderate numbers of subscribers, and the SDV channels can be unique to each node. In the near term, maybe 10 or 15 SDV channels would be enough. Later, maybe 20, 30 or 40 might be needed. Worst case, if all SDV channels were set to HD, plenty of room is left over for non-SDV channels.

Suppose the SDV allocation were equal to 60 HD channels; that would leave room for say 100 HD and 170 SD non-SDV channels, all in addition to the HD and SD digital channels currently on the system.

So the solution becomes fairly obvious. With the all digital transition, cable companies can offer infinite choice and an incredible increase in “fixed” channels. CableCARD users win, everyone wins. Indeed, the cable companies aren’t going to want to bother with SDV for any reasonably popular channel because it becomes technically pointless as the likelyhood that someone on the node already is watching it increases, and providing an SDV stream to an individual takes far more resources (think servers & routers) than a fixed channel.

Is this solution going to vary around the country? Sure. What about systems that have only 50 analog channels? Well, the numbers shrink, but there’s still plenty to go around. For the bulk of the population, everything will be fine.

So that’s the technical breakdown. What about the political breakdown?

Well, there aren’t that many CC users, and hopefully there won’t be (one way devices.) Its not a very strong political group – scattered TV owners. They could be “bought out” cheap if necessary for 12 months of a free STB rental , or $100 towards a 3rd party device. That would be small change in the cable industry if it had to come to that.

The TiVo users will be a stronger voice. There is more cohesion; there might be 50,000 S3s and maybe over 100,000 S3-lites to deal with. Still the numbers are small enough that they can be dealt with.

Remember, these two groups would be getting compensated for only getting a huge increase in available channels, but not an infinite number.

The bottom line is I see an achievable compromise in which everyone gets plenty.

Maybe I will change my mind 50 more times. Maybe I can just concentrate on 2-way devices coming into existence somehow, someway.

Maybe I’m nuts because all those S2DT TiVoes are going to become single tuners in the all digital systems unless some box appears for $XXX to get around that.

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