The NCTA conducted an interesting form of outreach last week. After apparently reading a number of unflattering and possibly inaccurate reports on switched digital video’s impact on CableCARD retail devices, the association put out the word that it would conduct a conference call briefing for any bloggers and journalists interested in discussing the topic. The call happened on Friday and it was truly a party of industry trade folk. Among the people I know were on the call: EngadgetHD, Cable Digital News, Multichannel News, IP and Democracy, TV Technology, Envisioneering, HD Guru, Gizmo Lovers, and Zatz Not Funny. And other than someone who treated us all to loud hold music (participants’ phones were not muted), everyone behaved pretty well.
Digression aside, there wasn’t much in the way of news on the call, but I still applaud the NCTA for holding an open forum. More interesting to me than the NCTA’s presentation were the questions that came after it. Here’s a sample (paraphrased) with the NCTA’s answers (also paraphrased). The entire recorded conference call is also available. Call 1-800-475-6701 and enter access code 920821.
Sampling of Q&As from the 4/25 NCTA conference call:
Q: Given the issue of having no 2-way communications in today’s retail CableCARD devices, why doesn’t the cable industry support DCR+?
A: The same problem exists with DCR+ as with one-way CableCARD devices in that consumers don’t get access to all the cable services they expect. DCR+, for example, won’t receive certain existing services like Time Warner’s StartOver and LookBack, not to mention future applications.
Q: What assurance can you give that Tru2way won’t be superseded by something else in three or four years, making consumer hardware obsolete?
A: Cable operators are putting Tru2way in their own devices so they’re not likely render Tru2way obsolete when they have so many set-tops with it in the field.
Q: Given the issues with switched digital video, why doesn’t the cable industry just move to all-digital like Verizon to reclaim bandwidth?
A: The cable is industry is much bigger than Verizon with a lot more existing analog customers. The transition is going to be much more difficult.
Q: PC companies and portable media player companies have difficulty with the CableLabs certification process, particularly when their headquarters are in places like Shanghai, rather than Boulder, Colorado. How do companies figure out how to work with CableLabs?
A: The CableLabs licensing and certification process is open to anyone who wants to participate, and CableLabs wants more companies to get involved. With all the innovation and energy from some of these CE companies, it seems it would be possible for them to make contact with CableLabs without getting 150 people in a room for a CableLabs event in Shanghai. Several cable industry CEOs have even gone to Japan and Korea to reach out to the Asian CE market. It could be a two-way street.
Q: Will there be any kind of requirement for operators to tell subscribers which channels will be on a switched network?
A: Yes, generally operators have to give thirty-day notice when there’s any kind of programming change.