DVR in the OTT world: A case for updated storage requirements with cloud DVR

Jason_Friedlander_Headshot By Jason Friedlander, Director of Product Marketing

The 2008 Cablevision ruling for cloud DVR couldn’t foresee the rise of OTT, and the unintended consequences it created for today’s virtual MVPDs. These rules simply don’t make sense today and, in fact, are hampering innovation within the OTT space. Here, we review the current rules and their impact on the OTT market, and suggest a new set of cloud DVR rules that address the way content is distributed and viewed today, while ensuring that consumers maintain perpetual access to their programs whenever they want them.

Thanks to the Supreme Court’s refusal in 2009 to hear the Cablevision remote DVR case (Cable News Network et al. v. CSC Holdings et al.), the hard drives supporting DVR services can be located within a cable operator’s data centers – or, in today’s terms, the cloud.

To the chagrin of the broadcasters that sued for copyright infringement, claiming that Cablevision had no right to archive and retransmit their programming at its discretion, the earlier appeals court decision in favor of Cablevision stood. The three-judge panel determined, among other things, that Cablevision did not “own” the copies of content on its servers; rather, because users made and controlled copies of content, traditional fair use guidelines for home recording applied.

While this judgment opened the door to the cloud DVR model, which has been critical in enabling MSOs to make significant technical and business advances, it doesn’t make sense in the newer world of over-the-top (OTT) media consumption. Although cable operators have maintained their right to store content either on subscribers’ set-top boxes or in the cloud, they still must follow FCC rules that require they keep a unique copy of content for every user who requests a recording. (In a sense, the rule is a holdover from earlier days when consumers recorded to a CD or VHS tape – something they possessed and could control.)

Consumer protection
The rules exist to ensure that a subscriber who has paid for a DVR service can access recorded content in perpetuity. The goal of these rules is to guarantee that the provider does not wipe out that stored content and eliminate access to it. A large MSO may be in a position to maintain multiple copies of content within a data center, and at very high costs, but virtual OTT providers are built on different infrastructures and delivery mechanisms.

The consumer traditionally has been responsible for managing storage and deleting content via some kind of box in the home, but in the OTT realm, it becomes the responsibility of the virtual OTT provider to set up all of that storage and to account for the innumerable people who might decide to record a single show. Although these requirements were set up years ago to protect content users (by preserving their access to content), they now present a steep challenge to virtual OTT providers. By making it difficult to offer the functionality the users have come to know and love on their set-top boxes and other home devices, these storage requirements hamper the ability of content owners and distributors to provide the viewing experiences their customers demand.

New OTT consumer needs
In the highly competitive OTT video marketplace, cloud DVR functionality can be a key differentiator and a valuable tool in expanding a subscriber base. As the rules stand now, however, compliance can be an onerous or impossible undertaking. The DVR services that virtual OTT providers can offer are necessarily limited, typically by factors, such as number of recording hours or an expiration date.

As consumers continue to cut the cord to traditional pay-TV services, cloud DVR will become an increasingly important part of virtual OTT services. And it can be a robust function that serves consumers well, if the FCC and other rule-making bodies consider the practical realities of OTT delivery and give providers the leeway they need to give users a proper experience. Consumers would be free to enjoy their recorded programs when and how they want.

We know that a new and better model is possible because, for the content publishers who are our customers, we serve up a single session for every single user that hits play. With the assets stored on our system, we can just as easily offer up one stream or thousands at any given time. We can deliver exactly what each user requests, so there really is no benefit to maintaining dozens, hundreds or thousands of copies when just one is sufficient to serve all requests.

So, we feel that outdated aspects of the rules should be allowed to fall by the wayside, and that more appropriate steps be taken to guarantee that users are still given the access to the content that they “recorded.” Three simple rules for cloud DVR recording, storage and delivery would do the trick:

Rule 1: Allow all OTT providers to reduce their storage requirements by storing just a single copy of each asset. This model is already being used effectively and reliably to deliver content to huge numbers of viewers.

Rule 2: Require that the provider maintain, at all times, for any content “recorded” by one or more users via a DVR service, a copy at the same or greater quality than the highest quality available at the time of the recording. This copy must be kept in storage until the last remaining user “deletes” it from their DVR, or until that last user’s contract with the service expires.

Rule 3: Require all delivery to be performed according to a unique manifest so that each user can get the best possible viewing experience on any given device.

These three basic rules would benefit content owners by significantly reducing infrastructure costs and by eliminating many of the headaches now associated with delivering a cloud DVR solution to users. At the same time, these rules would give media consumers the comfort of knowing that their content is accessible to them in perpetuity, no matter when they request it. We believe that this fresh approach to DVR requirements would allow OTT services to grow ever more robust and, in turn, to better serve the needs of both content owners and
consumers.

This article originally appeared in The M&E Journal: Security Issue.