FCC okays blueprint for tube fare sharing

This article was updated at 8:52 p.m.

Legions of TiVo fans just got another reason to love their favorite machine, much to the indignation of the motion picture industry.

The Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday gave the greenlight to sharing service TivoToGo, which will allow TiVo users to record and send programming to nine other TiVo boxes or computers via the Internet. The devices must be registered to the same customer account and users must have an electronic key to access the video.

TiVo’s Digital Output Protection Technology is designed to prevent the files from being distributed more widely.

FCC gave its stamp of approval despite serious concerns from Hollywood and professional sports teams.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and the National Football League argued that the new product would lead to a breakdown in normal TV viewership because shows could become widely available over the Internet and could create alternative, unauthorized viewing markets.

Firm go-ahead

The FCC rejected those concerns and voted unanimously to certify digital protections for TiVoToGo.

The FCC rarely comments on its decisions, letting the written ruling or order speak for itself, and the TiVo decision was no different. In the order, FCC argued that limiting distribution to nine friends or family members provides enough protections against mass distribution.

Wednesday’s order builds on a digital piracy ruling the FCC made last fall with regard to the broadcast flag, an electronic signal that gives DVD recorders and other devices a way to encrypt shows and prevent them from being distributed online. The new TiVo product will utilize the flag.

In addition to TiVo, the FCC approved 12 other technologies employing the flag, including devices produced by Microsoft, Philips Electronics, Hewlett-Packard, RealNetworks and Sony.

The MPAA was disappointed with the FCC’s decision to approve the new product, expressing concerns that it would disrupt local broadcasting and harm syndication markets.

“The MPAA and its member companies are not categorically against the idea of remote access, but there are many business and copyright issues associated with remote access to TV programming from anywhere in the world,” the trade org said in a statement. “We believe these issues deserve further analysis.”

Raising flag

Despite the unanimous decision, Republican commissioner Kevin Martin expressed some concern that TiVo’s technology does not provide enough protection.

“I ultimately want to enable a person’s digital networking environment to extend beyond the home,” Martin wrote. “I fear, however, that we may be acting prematurely in concluding that TiVo’s affinity controls are sufficient to protect against widespread redistribution.”

For these reasons, Martin said he would have preferred to approve the technology on the condition that TiVo impose more limits on where the digital copies can be sent — a way to allow the FCC time to study the product’s impact on TV viewership.

TiVo has about 1.6 million subscribers who pay a monthly rate or a flat fee for lifetime usage to digitally record TV shows and view them whenever they want.

Company has been under pressure to launch services in order to attract more subs and boost its bottom line. Some TiVo owners have purchased more than one box and have long wanted the ability to share programming between them.

TiVoToGo, whose launch is planned for the fall, would satisfy those users as well as enable the sharing of programming with boxes outside of the home.

TiVo, whose stock has taken a hit over the past several months, benefited from the news. Shares rose slightly, increasing 4¢ to close at $5.15.

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