Cablevision Plans New Headend DVR

In a move that could provoke a copyright dispute with programmers, Cablevision Systems plans to roll out a digital video recording (DVR) system that stores a TV show at its central headend rather than in a hard drive in subscribers' homes.

The cable operator plans a technical trial for the "network DVR" in 1,000 homes on New York's Long Island. After 60- 90 days of tweaking, the company may roll the service to its 3 million subscribers in metro New York.

Cablevision has long seen the scheme as a more efficient and cheaper way of offering DVR service. The DVR set-tops that cable operators lease out are expensive, and their hard drives start failing after a few years. The new service would stash customers' requests on massive storage drives at the headend, requiring less capital investment over the long run.

Customers would notice no particular difference and could still schedule recordings and be able to pause and rewind through live TV. "It's a DVR; it does everything a DVR does," says Cablevision President Tom Rutledge.

It's not clear whether programmers will object. They have generally treated DVR set-tops the same as VCRs, and they have not protested. But recording shows at the headend and redistributing them through the cable network will draw different copyright scrutiny.

Cablevision executives believe they can avoid problems by offering each DVR customer dedicated storage space, preventing users from sharing content.

Cablevision has been talking about the plan for more than a year but has only recently informed programmers it was going forward. Programming executives contacted say they don't know enough about the plan to comment.