Who Needs a DVR?

WASHINGTON, D.C. — One of the certiorari petitions rejected by the Supreme Court for next term was the lawsuit by various television producers including CBS, Fox, NBC Universal, Turner, Viacom and Disney seeking to overturn an appeals court ruling in favor of Cablevision Systems, a cable TV operator based in New York that wanted to offer customers the ability to "save" TV shows on its own computer system rather than forcing those consumers to invest in a set-top digital video recorder (DVR) or to record the show to tape or disk as it's being broadcast.

Cablevision had wanted to introduce the service in 2006, but as soon as it announced its plans, the company was sued by both networks and independent producers, who argued that such a service would be a new form of "on demand" programming that wasn't covered by their existing contracts with Cablevision, and that therefore, Cablevision should pay an additional fee for the offering.

But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a trial court's decision upholding the networks' position, and with the Supreme Court's denial of cert, Cablevision can now move ahead with its plans — although David Kravets of Wired.com warns, "Renewed litigation over the topic is likely."

And while Cablevision competitors Time-Warner Cable and Comcast have not announced similar offsite storage plans, Time Warner already offers some popular show repeats like Law & Order and NCIS on its "on-demand" channels, so allowing viewers to select which shows they'd like to store won't be much of a stretch. However, the company said that offering the service won't happen until the company is assured that all legal challenges have been settled.

Exactly what effect the service would have on shows from Playboy Channel or other erotically oriented networks is unclear, but with the service likely to be sold on a pay-per-minute basis, viewers of erotic fare may quickly learn that it's a lot cheaper to simply record their favorite shows on a DVD (or VCR) for later viewing.