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Cablevision to Launch Network DVR

Cablevision Systems said Wednesday that it plans to launch its network digital-video-recorder “early next year,” rolling it out on its own campus as early as next week.

The cable operator has had the technology ready since 2006, but it was unable to release it until a court ruling last month found that it didn’t infringe on content providers’ copyrights.

“We won a monumental case and all of the things that we thought we could do, the court agreed with, so we're ready to go to market with that product,” Cablevision chief operating officer Tom Rutledge said at a Merrill Lynch conference Wednesday.

The RS-DVR, Cablevision’s name for its network DVR, functions similarly to a regular DVR except that the recording and playback is handled by servers at the cable system’s headend instead of the consumer’s set-top box.

Cablevision argued that because the system still makes recordings at the request of the consumer and each recording is accessible exclusively by the consumer that requested it, the network DVR should be subject to the same fair-use protection as a regular DVR.

One notable difference between the RS-DVR and most current-generation DVRs is that once a household has recorded a program with the RS-DVR, they can then play it back on any set-top box in the house.

Alternately, Time Warner Cable and other MSOs provide a similar service called “Start Over,” which allows consumers to pause and rewind selected programming. Start Over works by making a single copy of the program at the system’s headend and making it available to all viewers.

Because the MSO makes a single copy available to all viewers, it must get permission from the content providers. In exchange for that permission, the MSOs agree not to provide any fast-forward functionality, so as to prevent ad-skipping.

Cablevision and other MSOs prefer technology like the network DVR and Start Over because they are able to deploy them without sending technicians out to people’s homes, instead utilizing existing set-top boxes and just swapping out the remote.

Cablevision expects to save about $100 in hardware costs for each user of the network DVR compared with a user of a traditional DVR. The cable industry sees this as a competitive advantage over satellite, which is technologically unable to provide a similar service.

Two months after Cablevision originally announced plans to launch the RS-DVR in 2006, the major networks and studios collectively sued the company, arguing that the RS-DVR amounted to an unauthorized video-on-demand service. In March 2007, the court ruled against Cablevision.

A federal appeals court overturned that decision in August. Cablevision now plans to launch the service “early next year,” but it has not announced specific packages or pricing. Instead, Rutledge said, the company is “thinking through those issues right now.”

When originally announced in 2006, the plan was to offer users 80 gigabytes of space. Cablevision later doubled that to 160 GB.