Comcast rejects VOD; Embraces local digital video recording

Comcast, the nation’s largest cable company, plans to begin providing digital video recording (DVR) features directly to its cable TV subscribers by year’s end. The cable operator has chosen local hard disc recording in the set-top box rather than server-based video-on-demand (VOD) technology.

Comcast will offer the DVR services over Motorola set-top boxes and has developed its own digital video recording software with partner TV Guide, said Comcast CEO Brian Roberts last week at the Western Cable Show in Anaheim, Calif.

“We are working on Motorola’s platform, and we will be rolling it out this quarter,” Roberts said. Comcast will launch DVR services “big time” next year, he said, adding that he expects to be able to provide the service to 90 percent of the company’s subscribers by the end of 2004.

Comcast’s digital video recorder allows subscribers to record and store television programs onto a hard drive inside the set-top box. Users can also rewind or pause live programs with a remote control.

Missing from the Comcast picture is TiVo, the pioneer of personal digital recording technology. TiVo has deals with DirecTV, Toshiba and Pioneer, but has faced intense competition from the manufacturers of cable set-top boxes.

Comcast’s DVR deployment differs from the video-on-demand (VOD) strategy adopted by other cable operators. While VOD usually stores video files on central servers at the cable headend and then feeds video streams back to individual subscribers, Comcast locates the hard drive in the customer’s home.

On Wall Street, the Comcast news — which some say may reduce TiVo's chances of striking deals with other cable companies -- caused shares of TiVo stock to tumble more than 12 percent.

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