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The Shallowing Slope of VOD Concurrency

cable-vod-concurrency-motorola

Video-on-demand is on a huge growth curve. The average VOD library size is expected to jump from under 10 TB in 2008 to over 20 TB in 2009, and, according to Pike and Fisher stats I’ve seen referenced, on-demand viewing is projected to jump from 9% of all viewing last year to 38% of viewing by 2012. The net effect is that more VOD content is moving into the long tail. While it used to be that 20% of on-demand videos supported 80% of viewers, now that same 80% is accessing 50% of available content.

The issue with more people watching more and different stuff is that a whole lot of different content has to be available at the same time. That’s a streaming challenge and a storage challenge, and it means cable networks have to get a lot more efficient in how they move video out to on-demand subscribers. They can’t just make 20% of content available at the edge of their networks and assume few people will access anything else. But they also can’t store everything at every edge server because of scaling issues.

Lots of folks are following how content is delivered online because of the rise of content delivery networks (CDNs). That same level of observation should be trained on cable VOD networks. There are striking similarities.

Canoe Makes Progress with EBIF

canoe-ventures-logo-cable-advertising

Canoe, the joint venture tasked with nationalizing an advanced advertising platform for the cable industry, has been highly visible of late. After great secrecy in 2008, the organization is feeding information to the press in what appears to be almost a publicity campaign. Most recently, Todd Spangler at Multichannel News detailed early Canoe technical trials with EBIF applications. According to Spangler’s article:

Canoe Ventures in the next few months will provide TV programmers detailed specs and tools for building two classes of interactive applications, following a recent test in which a standards-based ITV application was distributed nationally to multiple operators…

Initially, Canoe will define two ITV templates, both based on EBIF: One for voting and polling, and one for “request for information” applications.

Presumably the news from Canoe is part of a run-up in the press to this year’s Cable Show. Will EBIF be the big theme at the annual cable gathering? Certainly we’re seeing progress in EBIF deployments. As Spangler recounts, Comcast has deployed EBIF agents on more than ten million Motorola set-tops, with plans to roll out to all 20 million Motorola set-tops by the middle of this year. Oddly, Verizon is one of the other big leaders in EBIF to date… though the telco is unlikely to get much enthusiastic attention at the Cable Show.

Shaw Goes for the 100-Megabit Home with Motorola DOCSIS 3.0

shaw-motorola-docsis-3-tx32-channel-bonding-100-mbpsCanadian cable operator Shaw announced a few short weeks ago that it would be launching a new 100-Mbps speed tier using DOCSIS 3.0 channel bonding.¬† Shortly after that, Motorola claimed the success of its TX32 downstream module for channel bonding with a milestone release counting 1,000 modules sold. Here we are later in the same month, and the two news items are finally joined together with the announcement that Shaw is using Motorola’s DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem termination systems (CMTS) – including the TX32 cards – and D3 cable modems for its 100-Mbps deployments.

Details of the new Shaw speed tier include the fact that it runs $269.95 (Canadian dollars) per month alone or $249.95 when bundled with another Shaw service. It’s also subject to a 200 GB consumption cap, more generous than most, but behind Comcast with its 250 GB ceiling.

Shaw isn’t the first cable operator to break the 100-Mbps barrier, but it is (applause please) the first one in North America. Amazingly, it doesn’t appear that DOCSIS 3.0 deployments have slowed in keeping with the rest of the economy’s laggardly nature. Hard to know if deployments will keep pace in the coming months, but for now the need for speed is winning out over financial concerns.

Online Video Not Taking Business Away from Pay TV

tv-set-top-online-video-cable-internetHere’s a bit of news that cable and telco TV providers can rejoice in together. According to Bernstein Research analyst Craig Moffett, online video watching is not causing a drop in pay-TV subscriptions. Despite recent articles touting the cord-cutting trend, and high-profile experiments in dropping subscription TV service from industry personalities like Daisy Whitney, the general consumer population isn’t giving up on pay TV. As Moffett referenced, AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter, Time Warner, and DirecTV signed up 441,000 subscribers in Q4, nearly 50,000 more than a year ago. And this despite a recession – when free TV can be a pretty compelling proposition.

There are many reasons to adore online video, but equally there are many reasons it’s a secondary avenue for television content rather than a first: big-screen HDTV quality, the ability to browse programming (channel up, channel down), sports exclusives, guaranteed availability of shows beyond the big networks, and DVR functionality with your TV remote, to name a few. I know nobody outside the video/tech industry who is willing to give all that up. In fact, I know very few people even among the geek sector (I include myself here) interested in dropping premium TV service. I’m not surprised to see the numbers back that up.

Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down

Sometimes all the news of the week needs is a little graphical interpretation. In honor of Newsweek’s old thumbs-up, thumbs-down feature, here are my opposable-digit picks of the last few days.

thumbs-upDTV Transition Going Well РDespite all anecdotal evidence before the event to the contrary, it appears  the transition to all-digital broadcasts is preceding with minimal drama. (via TVBarn tweet)

thumbs-upMore DOCSIS 3.0 – Comcast is now aiming to have 65% of markets upgraded to DOCSIS 3.0 by the end of the year after easily meeting its goal of 20% coverage by the end of 2008. (Motorola modems spotted last year in Comcast D3 deployments)

thumbs-downEarnings Announcements – Generally bad and uninspiring. (Unless you’re Campbell’s Soup.) Also contributing to new lows in recent stock market memory.

thumbs-downHulu Pulls Content – Hulu pulled its popular NBC and FOX content from Boxee and CBS-owned TV.com this week. So much for a new approach to new media.

thumbs-upCBS March Madness in High-Def Online – If you’re a college basketball fan, your viewing options for the month of March just got whole lot better.

Online is Going HD

2009_mmod_hq_playerImage courtesy of Zatz Not Funny

Not long ago it was a novelty just watching TV on the PC, and yet we’ve quickly moved from grainy, standard-def YouTube videos to high-def, premium content online. The latest example? CBSSports.com is debuting online HD coverage of March Madness this year with a new Silverlight player. You don’t have to watch March Madness on Demand (MMOD) in HD if you don’t have the bandwidth or computing power to carry it, but it will be available for those that do.

The HD NCAA basketball coverage comes on the heels of the presidential inauguration last month, which also got the HD treatment on CBS local affiliate sites. In fact, CBS Television Stations had seven HD feeds streaming for the inauguration, and the result was stunning. (I watched online. It really was beautiful.)

The move to HD online has a lot of interesting implications. Naturally there’s the impact on downstream bandwidth, but I’m betting there’s an indirect effect on upstream bandwidth as well. The more people see HD video online, the more people want to create their own HD videos for online sharing. Consumer-friendly HD camcorders abound, and if you can handle the massive files sizes (not an insignificant consideration), there’s little barrier to entry in the online HD video free-for-all.

The other interesting issue that online HD video raises is competition with traditional broadcast television. Current business models and consumer behaviors mean that online video doesn’t remotely threaten traditional TV today. But it’s interesting to watch as the two mediums converge.

DTV D-Day #1

comcast_trucks_-dtv-transition-cableIt’s February 17th, D-Day for the transition to all-digital broadcasting. Or at least, D-Day #1. Most stations aren’t making the switch today because of the government-ordered delay until June 12th. However, 421 stations are moving forward as originally planned. On top of the 220 stations that have already transitioned, that comes out to 36% of stations nationwide that will have dropped analog signals by midnight tonight.

The DTV transition is all a bit confusing for consumers, but we’ll have a better sense of just what the impact looks like when reports start rolling in tomorrow. Drop a comment here if you have any anecdotes. I’ll also be looking for information on whether cablecos and telcos see any subscriber increases as a result of the transition. Anyone you know using analog armageddon as an excuse finally to upgrade to pay-TV service?