Ars got hold of a letter addressed to cable provider Telenet, a letter in which compensation and technical crippling of the DVR were demanded. A similar letter went to Belgacom, another cable TV provider. This letter, kindly provided to us by Inside TV International, was jointly written by the CEOs of the three Flemish broadcasters.
The CEOs weren’t just making the usual complaints over users time-shifting broadcasts and zipping through commercials. No, DVRs are also blamed for the not-as-successful-as-expected introduction of the broadcasters’ own “catch-up” TV services.
In Belgium, on-demand catch-up services are pay-per-view only (unlike the BBC iPlayer or Hulu), and revenues for these services aren’t meeting expectations. Needless to say, DVRs allow users to bypass these services if they plan ahead; why pay to watch last night’s episode of some drama when it’s sitting on your DVR’s hard drive?
The introduction of the ability to program a DVR via the Web or a smartphone app has made the problem worse—at least from the perspective of the broadcasters—by making DVR programming just too easy. Newspaper De Morgen was also told that the broadcasters view their product as a TV evening (programs and commercials combined), not just as individual programs. DVRs eviscerate that concept.
If the first complaint sounds familiar, it’s because it dates back to the Betamax case in the US. The others are unique to Belgium. Instead of wondering if they had overpriced their TV shows (with prices up to €3 euro per program) or looking at a different model like the ad-supported Hulu, the broadcaster laid the blame squarely at the foot of the DVR. After all, ever since the introduction of DVRs, the growth of catch-up TV has lagged that of digital TV usage. But any high school science student knows that correlation isn’t causation and that past performance doesn’t guarantee future performance—a bit of data apparently lost on the broadcasters.
The broadcasters try to add weight to the argument by mentioning that in set-top box menus, the “record” function is positioned higher than the “on-demand” catch-up function, which is a clear indication of the nefarious goals of the cable TV companies.
The CEOs’ letter is scant on solutions. It would have been quite interesting to see their proposals for getting people back to watching the same channel for an entire evening. The removal of the TV’s “off” switch would probably help, as would an inability to switch channels after an initial choice is made. Perhaps they could confiscate smartphones, laptops, and tablet computers?
With alternate solutions nowhere in sight, the CEOs ask for compensation and they end their letter with the suggestion that the cable TV companies propose other solutions to their problems.