Motorola is one of the heavy hitters in the set top box market. Not only do they make the cable tuners that a lot of cable companies install at their customers' premises, they also make TiVo-comparable digital video recorders (DVRs). By the way, if you ask me, leasing a DVR from your cable company makes way more sense than buying one. Here at the Berlind Household, we lease Motorola's combo-DVR/cable TV tuner from Comcast for a total of $5.00 more per month than we'd pay for a regular cable TV tuner. Since we first moved to the combo unit, we've had two of them break on us.
The advantage of leasing from the same company that provides your cable service is that when it breaks, you call the cable company, they show up the next day with a new box, and your done. Sure. At $5.00 per month, sooner or later, I'll end up paying more for the DVR than I would if I bought one. But the peace of mind in knowing that my cable company will replace that thing in a heartbeat makes the $5.00 per month worth it to me.
Anyway, why am I writing about Motorola. Well, if Cable and broadcast television are going to survive YouTube and the like, companies like Motorola are going to have to make the TV more compelling than the computer. And, judging by a pitch I just received from Motorola's PR counsel, Moto is working on that problem right now. But what really caught my eye in the pitch was the articulation of the battle between old and new. I don't think I could have said it better if asked:
The movie industry is once again in flux with Walmart’s announcement this week that it has begun offering movies for download. Walmart, along with Amazon, Apple, Bit Torrent, and others, are trying to draw consumers away from their television sets and toward their computers for movie content.
On the other end of the spectrum, Comcast and other cable operators, along with telecom operators like Verizon, are attempting to draw consumers back to their TV sets with a number of new Video-On-Demand and Digital Video Recorder options.
That is simply the very best articulation I've heard of the power struggle going on right now. Could it be better? Sure, let's toss in mobile (and be sure to answer my poll below). Someone (for example Verizon Wireless with it's VCAST service) would rather you drop you television set and your computer and watch shows on their mobile handsets (a market that Motorola is also happy to help its partners in). Ironically, the pitch doesn't mention that, in working with various mobile operators, Motorola is also one of the those forces conspiring against the established media cartel. But hey. Who can blame any hardware manufacturer like Moto for hedging!
So, what sorts of DVR features is Moto coming out with to keep you glued to the TV instead of the Internet? According to a Motorola representative, some of:
Motorola is helping them accomplish this by increasing the amount of content and streams providers are able to offer on-demand, straight to customers’ set-top boxes, with technology like Switch Digital Broadcast and DOCSIS 3.0.
OK, get out the tech dictionary. Hopefully, Moto doesn't put this sort of lingo in its ads because no one will have any idea what this stuff means. According to the official DOCSIS Web site:
Cable operators can provide a variety of high-value services through an "always-on" internet connection, including broadband Internet connectivity, telephony, real-time interactive gaming, and video conferencing. DOCSIS products are standards-based, so manufacturers can provide enhanced features at competitive prices.
Hmmm. Sounds like the CableTV set top box and the cable/modem are going to become one device (pssst! Motorola makes cable/modems too). The Motorola rep went on to say:
Motorola is also making television more flexible with technologies like Follow Me TV, which lets viewers “pass” shows they’ve recorded on one DVR to other televisions around their home; and Start Over TV, which lets viewers start shows over from the beginning with the push of a button—without having to record them.
Should we be ooooohing and aaaaahing? I don' t know. Today, starting over isn't that difficult (although I suppose being able to do it with one button would be nice). And distributing my DVR recordings to other TVs in the house? Well, it's doable today, but you'll need a super expensive whole home theatre/audio distribution system like Xantech's MRC 88 to do it (I have one, I know). So, for Moto to do this on the cheap could work in certain markets. That said, will it be better than the alternative: taking your notebook to bed and watching YouTube? Who knows.