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FCC Approves TiVo Technology

Hollywood criticizes the decision to allow users to send recorded shows over the Internet to several playback devices.

August 05, 2004|Jube Shiver Jr. | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Over the objection of the entertainment industry, regulators Wednesday approved technology that allows TiVo subscribers to send recorded television shows over the Internet.

The decision by the Federal Communications Commission is expected to encourage consumer electronics companies to offer digital devices that give users more control over how and where they watch the programs they record.

TiVo Inc.'s TiVoGuard was among 13 anti-piracy technologies the FCC certified Wednesday. The ruling came eight months after the FCC ordered that copy protection technology be incorporated into all digital TV recording devices by 2005.

Hollywood studios wanted tight controls on the ability to send recorded programs over the Internet. Device makers like Alviso, Calif.-based TiVo argued that such restrictions would stifle innovation just as the nation's living rooms are starting to go digital.

FCC Chairman Michael K. Powell, who once called TiVo "God's machine," said TiVo's scheme balanced protection and flexibility. "We are recognizing the need to protect digital content, without sacrificing the need for innovation," he said.

The Motion Picture Assn. of America and the National Football League supported competing technologies from Microsoft Corp., Sony Corp. and 10 other applicants that strictly limit the redistribution of recorded digital TV shows to within a single household.

They balked at TiVoGuard, which lets subscribers zap recorded broadcasts over the Internet to as many as nine playback devices, provided all of the devices share the same TiVo customer account.

The MPAA criticized Wednesday's decision, saying in a statement that "technologies that enable redistribution of copyrighted TV programming beyond the local TV market disrupt local advertiser-supported broadcasting and harm TV syndication markets -- essential elements supporting the U.S. local broadcasting system."

Hollywood has long been reluctant to give viewers too much control over the programs they record.

Two years ago, the major studios sued to stop another brand of digital video recorders, Sonicblue Inc.'s ReplayTV, from letting subscribers send recordings through the Internet. The suit was dismissed after Sonicblue filed for bankruptcy protection and sold ReplayTV to D&M Holding Inc.'s Digital Networks North America, which agreed to remove the feature from new models.

TiVo said its system could track subscriber activity to ensure that content was not widely distributed.

Mike Godwin, an attorney for the Washington watchdog group Public Knowledge, said other companies were likely to seek approval of more flexible recording technology in the wake of TiVo's victory.

Although TiVo, with 1.6 million subscribers, has struggled to gain mass market acceptance, experts foresee a booming market for digital TV recording. Houston-based Meedio, which markets media management and digital TV recording software, said the technology was gaining acceptance with customers.

"There's definitely a consumer appetite ... for more flexibility in media management," said Meedio Chief Executive Victor Koosh, citing the 2 million hits a day his firm's website receives. "Consumers feel that once you have recorded a program, the way you use it should be up to you."

Times staff writer Jon Healey contributed to this report.

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