Home Analysis Don’t Let Content Rights Issues Rain on the Cloud DVR Parade

Don’t Let Content Rights Issues Rain on the Cloud DVR Parade

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By Roland Mestric, Director of Video Solutions Marketing, Alcatel-Lucent

Adopting a flexible Cloud DVR strategy will provide benefits in an evolving landscape

The business benefits available to service providers who deploy cloud DVR technology are obvious: Moving hard disks, tuners and processing from home-based set-top boxes to the network improves subscriber experience while reducing cost and complexity for service providers.

End users can access time-shifted TV services on any device, anytime, anywhere. Service providers can deliver DVR services without installing costly hardware in the home. The cost to operate and maintain DVR services are lower compared to home-based alternatives, and service providers can increase profitability by offering value-added services to subscribers, advertisers and content owners. I’ve outlined the benefits of Cloud DVR more fully in this article.

As is often the case when it comes to technology, however, how cloud DVR can be deployed depends as much on courtroom decisions or content right agreements as it does on technical merit.

So while moving DVR technology to the cloud is not a new concept – in fact work on them began almost immediately after home-based DVRs launched in the 1990s – content rights issues have inhibited its deployment in many regions. Whether or not cloud-based recording violates copyright laws has significant implications for service providers looking to deploy the technology.

It is generally accepted that copying video content or TV programs on personal devices such as DVRs is allowed. Agreement ends, however, on the question of subscribers recording and storing TV programs on their service provider’s network. If the usage is deemed private, then the service is legally covered by the private-copy exception to copyright, and service providers do not need to seek approval from the rights holder. If, however, the usage is deemed public, approval must be sought and agreements reached with rights holders.

As a result, cloud DVR technology has been designed to be implemented in different ways to adapt the service to content rights agreements and individual countries’ copyright laws.

In a shared-copy cloud DVR deployment, a single copy of each recorded program is stored in the network and accessed by multiple subscribers. The key advantage of shared-copy cloud DVR is efficiency: the service only has to ingest and store one copy of each recorded program.

Switzerland’s Swisscom chose a shared-copy cloud DVR implementation when launching their “Replay TV” service in 2012. Other operators have also chosen the shared-copy model to fully benefit from its cost savings advantages.

In the private-copy cloud DVR model, one copy of the requested TV program is stored in the network per subscriber, and each stored program is available only to the subscriber who made the recording request. If two subscribers want to record the same content, duplicate copies are made, making this model less cost-efficient than the shared-copy model.

This implementation allows the recording and viewing process to be kept in a strict private and personal mode, very close to what happens on a home-based DVR. This approach is being adopted in the United States by Cablevision and by other service providers.

Considering the benefits cloud DVR technology provides subscribers, service providers, content owners and advertisers, it is likely that rights agreements will evolve to accept the shared-copy model. Until this happens, service providers can start with a comprehensive cloud DVR service that replicates home-based DVRs to ease the technology’s acceptance by content providers. Such a cloud DVR service could provide:

–       Private copies

–       Limited storage space

–       Limited concurrent recording and/or streaming

–       No playback on mobile devices or playback to a limited number of devices

Some of these constraints can then be relaxed through simple software system configuration to adapt to new business rules. Storage space can be increased, expiry dates removed, shared-copy allowed. Nevertheless, broadcasters are unlikely to suddenly have all the rights they need to access all the features and benefits of cloud DVR technology. Service providers should, therefore, be able to grant or withhold cloud DVR capabilities on a program-by-program basis. For example, hybrid solutions allow service providers to store private copies (in the cloud or on a home-based DVR) for some content and create shared copies for other content, and gradually move to a full shared-copy model once better rights agreements are secured.

To maximize their return on investment, service providers should select cloud DVR technology with the flexibility to manage and overcome copyright restrictions by supporting private-copy and shared-copy models in parallel, and allow for easy migration from one to another as rights evolve.

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