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Cartoon Network Opens Door For Wave of New Business Opportunities

A popular cartoon channel has unwittingly become the catalyst for a new wave of disruptive businesses. Recently the Supreme Court declined to consider overturning Cartoon Networks v CSC which informally is known as the "Cablevision" case. It was a legal battle between video and music companies and a cable operator who wanted to provide a DVR (digital video recorder) service with the equipment in their central offices instead of in each subscriber's home. Normally DVRs are expensive to deploy and limited in expandability. By centralizing the equipment, Cablevision could quickly and cost effectively deploy the service to their customers plus easily upgrade at any time. Media companies alleged recording and playing back material from Cablevision headquarters instead of on a local setup box was a copyright infringement. The courts eventually concluded that it was legally permissible, because the customers were making the recording and Cablevision was acting as a store proprietor with a "photocopier on the premises". Cablevision has said they will take advantage of this ruling and soon offer a cost effective DVR service to their customers.

This favorable ruling on behalf of Cablevision also opens the door to a wide range of potential new features and services which can smartly record media. The following are a few product ideas I came up with that could be launched under the protection of Cablevision:

Primetime Recording - Capture all shows from the major networks, or your favorite channels every night from 8-11pm. How often do you find yourself at work listening to others talk about a great show or episode that you missed. Imagine a "Primetime Recording" option which would capture all shows during the 8-11pm hours on the major networks (ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, etc). This service would save those shows for 2-3 weeks and then automatically delete them if no action was taken.

Multi-channel Recording - Simultaneously record 5-10 channels. Newer set top boxes can record 2 shows at once, but if there is a sporting event (for example) airing during your favorite primetime shows, multiple recording options would be a plus. Having the recording done at a central location means you're not constrained by your set top box, thereby making it possible to record 5 or more shows at the same time.

Smart Recording- Your DVR knows your viewing habits and captures shows automatically. Today, DVR systems are largely manual with the user having to specify each show they wish to record. Sometimes you can pick a keyword, but ideally a DVR should examine your behavior and automatically take action. By the 4th episode of the Dog Whisperer, your DVR should know to record all future episodes even if the show switches networks, i.e., from Discovery to the National Geographic Channel.

My Own Channel - Automatically assemble a channel of personal favorites. Instead of requiring hopscotching between channels, your DVR tracks the shows you watch and creates your own personalized channel . For example, my "MR" playlist would be my favorite shows identified by what I had previously recorded or viewed. There could even be multiple channels like the "MR sports channel" (local sports programming, cycling, NBA, but NO soccer or golf), drama (realistic crime shows), mindless, silly reality shows, comedy specials, etc. This would provide more value from the voluminous 600 channels my cable company currently pumps to my house.

Music Recording - Record hours of music for on demand listening. Most cable and satellite systems offer radio channels such as MusicChoice or XM, but if you don't like the particular song that's playing, there's nothing you can do about it. Using a DVR, you could keep a buffer of 20-40 hours of your favorite music programming on hand so that it's available whenever you want to play it. Since your music will be recorded, you can fast forward songs you don't like, or listen to songs you like over and over again. Similarly, there are hundreds of online webcasting stations which could be recorded for users, creating an expansive music listening experience. Previous efforts have been hampered by legal uncertainty, but the Cablevision case clears that up considerably.

Auto-recording Players - Any media player I use (RealPlayer, Quicktime, radio in my car, etc.) should automatically collect media I encounter and add it to my personal collection where it would be available anywhere.

Anywhere Access - Listen or watch on multiple TVs, PCs or mobile phone. Today when I use my DVR, I can only watch the recorded shows in my house on the TV that recorded the program. However, if the recorded material is located at a large data center instead of my living room, I can watch my programs anywhere. I can view them from any TV in my house and since it's easy to connect to the Internet I can view them from my PC at work, my laptop when I travel, or even on my mobile phone. Since my cable bill is $160/month it seems reasonable to expect my programming to be accessible from wherever I am, on whatever screen I might have in front of me.

Social TV Experience - Use friends to get more value from your media. Since your friends typically have similar interests, useful information could be gleaned by looking over their shoulder at what they're recording and watching. Once recording happens on the network then the data collected can easily be shared with others. This could guide you to interesting material, help you find new friends, or even make suggestions as to what programs to avoid.

I'm often asked my opinion on new business opportunities and feel that it makes sense to look at these new services that are now legally permissible due to the Cablevision ruling. AT&T's Uverse TV service is already capitalizing on this opportunity by moving more functionality to it's main office so all TVs can view recorded programming. They also permit (as does DirecTV) recording from any web browser. For my company, MP3tunes, Cablevision is a great precedent that confirms our vision of "your music everywhere." There's an additional legal challenge to watch from a net based video service in Singapore. RecordTV lets Singaporeans record programming from 5 hidef video channels broadcast across this island nation. As with Cablevision, media companies say it's an infringement, while RecordTV says consumers are doing the recording. Let's hope Singapore courts agree with US courts.

--MR
michael@michaelrobertson.com



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