Dutch operator KPN is introducing a new broadband video offering which includes two set-top boxes as standard, with the ability to pause live television and record up to 200 hundred hours of programmes in the network rather than on a local disk. Although not the first operator in Europe to introduce a network recorder, the launch is a sign that the days of the domestic digital video recorder could be numbered.

The KPN Interactieve TV service includes options for catch-up programmes across ten channels for ten days. In addition, viewers can record up to 200 hours of programmes and play them back on either receiver. This costs an additional €5 a month on basic tiers and is bundled on the premium package, which includes 16 high-definition channels.

KPN is not the only European operator to offer a network PVR function. FastWeb in Italy, one of the pioneers of IPTV services, was one of the first, back in 2005. However, at launch it only offered five hours of personal video storage.

Cablevision in the United States introduced a trial service it called remote storage digital video recorder or RS-DVR in 2006. As with a domestic digital video recorder, this only stored programmes as specifically requested by the viewer, which the company argued constitutes fair use.

A number of studios disagreed and sued Cablevision, but the New York cable television company won on appeal in 2008. The studios appealed this decision, but the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a final appeal, bringing an end to the case in June 2009.

A network digital video recorder offers operators the advantage of higher reliability and lower deployment costs. The cost of providing and upgrading multiple digital video recorders for each subscribing home represents considerable capital expenditure.

Customers benefit as they can record any number of channels at the same time and the resulting recording is not tied to a particular device. In principle, rights notwithstanding, they could view the recorded programme on any compatible device or display, within or outside the home.

Storing a separate copy of a programme as previously requested by each individual user arguably does not require the explicit consent of rights holders, although this has yet to be tested legally in Europe. Such an approach is only limited by the amount of network storage available. An allowance of 200 hours seems reasonable, equivalent to several weeks of typical viewing.

In theory, operators could store a single shared copy of each recorded programme, which would be much more efficient. In this case, a virtually unlimited amount of storage could be offered economically. Rights holders might not agree, but such a scenario seems only a matter of time.

For broadband service providers, a move to cloud storage of media in the network means that the days of deploying dedicated domestic digital video recorders could be numbered.