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Around the World with DOCSIS 3.0

While I was caught up in Cable Show activities, a couple of news announcements of note hit the wire internationally. First, Motorola let drop that the company has deployed Taiwan’s first DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem Termination System (CMTS) with Taiwan Broadband Communications (TBC). The Asian market has been quite keen on D3 technology. Last year Motorola signed customers in both Korea and Japan.

Second, Motorola announced at Expo Canitec 2009 that its GPON and DOCSIS 3.0 solutions are ready for the Mexican market. The company has already deployed D3 gear in Brazil, but Mexico represents an entirely new opportunity. It will be interesting to watch how different broadband technologies (D3, PON, wireless, etc.) are utilized across Latin America in the coming years.

Meanwhile, DOCSIS 3.0 deployments stateside have continued apace. Analyst firm Pike and Fischer put a stake in the ground last month predicting we’ll have nearly 100% of homes passed with DOCSIS 3.0 here in the states by 2013.

Bandwidth Meters on the Way

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The frenzy over bandwidth caps reached a fevered pitch recently in response to news that Time Warner Cable was expanding trials beyond Beaumont Texas. Consumer outrage sparked responses from operators and the NCTA, as well as various politicians. Ultimately, Time Warner has decided to shelve its plan for metered billing, at least until it’s had “further consultation with our customers and other interested parties, ensuring that community needs are being met.”

Arguments for and against bandwidth caps aside, Time Warner is moving forward with one very smart plan. It’s turning more attention to getting a reliable bandwidth meter to market so that subscribers can actually tell how much bandwidth they use. This is critical. Even though public analyses like the recent one done by Stacey Higginbotham  over at GigaOM help clarify the relative value of bandwidth, nothing could make the situation clearer than providing real-time usage information. Once these meters are widely available, I imagine we’ll see wide usage comparisons from data collected in forums, on Twitter, and via other online communication tools. Then not only will consumers be able to see how much bandwidth they need for their own Internet habits, but also what patterns exist across the larger Internet population.

Rounding Out the Cable Show Coverage

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The Cable Show is now almost two weeks behind us, and it’s time to put this baby to bed. To finish off, I thought I’d link to a few good stories you might have missed from some of the industry’s best trade journalists. Until next year…

  • From Cable Digital News, The Cable Show ’09: 5 Takeaways – Jeff Baumgartner sums up The Cable Show in five categories: Down with OTT (over-the-top video), multi-room DVRs, IPTV, Enhancing the TV (EBIF),  and 3D-TV
  • From Multichannel News, ‘TV Everywhere’ Must Be Easy, Scalable - Todd Spangler covers Time Warner Cable’s approach to online video
  • From CED, So Far, Over-the-Top is OverdoneCED recounts keynote comments from speaker Bob Iger, president of Disney, regarding the financial viability of Internet video distribution today

EBIF – A Sign of the Times

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Even as tru2way held the spotlight at The Cable Show this year, EBIF was equally present, and perhaps even more top of mind for MSOs. If tru2way is the gold standard, then EBIF is the currency you can use to cash out quickly.

Part of the evidence on site included a number of EBIF applications demoed across the show floor. Every time I turned around I bumped into one particular Showtime app that teases the premium channel with marketing vids, program details, and even free episodes of top shows. With a couple of clips you can order the channel right from your TV screen. The application has been trialed with Time Warner Cable, and reportedly will see major distribution later this year.

Meanwhile there was also plenty of talk around The Cable Show about Canoe’s efforts to introduce  EBIF-based interactive TV apps in the next several months.  And Comcast has also now said that it will have EBIF on 10 million set-tops by year’s end.

Of course, folks who are really paying attention know that Verizon is already out of the gate with EBIF. With very little fanfare, Verizon began deploying EBIF applications for FiOS TV across Motorola set-tops last year. Interactive TV is already here.

CED Article Preview: Cable’s Online Video Opportunity

Next month CED magazine will highlight a contributed article from Motorola executive Buddy Snow on “Cable’s Online Video Opportunity”. Since the content ties in nicely with some of the content I’ve posted on this blog, I asked CED’s permission to publish an excerpt here. Below is a small section of the article due out next month. Be sure to check out the full article in CED‘s May edition.

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…If you go by the numbers, or better yet the dollars, Internet video is still a small-time business compared to its broadcast television counterpart. Companies spend close to 70 billion dollars a year in TV advertising, while online video advertising still gets less than one billion dollars annually according to industry analysts. However, the growth rate of online video and the emotional chord it strikes with consumers – who love to control what video they watch as well as when and where they watch it – makes Internet video an uncomfortable, lurking presence for many TV service providers. Add to that the fact that online video eats up a lot of bandwidth, and you have a serious thorn in cable’s side.

The problem for the cable industry, however, is really one of perspective. While the concerns surrounding Internet video are valid, the opportunity is greater than the threat. Who is better positioned than existing television service providers to deliver any kind of video into the consumer home? Cable operators already own the broadband pipes, enjoy an extensive customer base, know how to monetize both live and time-shifted content, and understand how television technology is evolving. By capitalizing on these strengths, cable providers can make Internet video a complementary asset to their existing television content and profit from the ability to deliver media seamlessly from different sources. Internet video opens the door for cable operators to enable the new networked home…

…Because cable operators have already invested in digital video recorders (DVRs) and video-on-demand (VOD), they have bridged the gap in the eyes of consumers from being simply transmitters of TV signals to service providers that can deliver a more complete and personalized entertainment experience – an important step along the road to entertainment convergence. Cable subscribers can record their own hit television line-ups through their DVRs and access a range of video on-demand selections from popular TV shows to fitness routines. It’s a much different experience than cable a decade ago, and consumers have bought into it. Cable’s strength means that Internet video is still something of a digital island. Since most of what consumers watch is still on TV, it makes a great deal of sense to join Internet video to the TV mainland, and that’s something only existing TV service providers can do…

Making Use of Analog Video with a MicroEncoder

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Even as we move to an increasingly digital world, there are still analog video remnants floating around. And no, I’m not talking about the analog TVs that are about to start cluttering landfills. A lot of security cameras still operate on analog frequencies, which makes it difficult to integrate the camera feeds with delivery of other digital video in places like hotels and hospitals. A niche problem to be sure, but still one that needs a solution. Yesterday, Motorola introduced the QUE1000 QAM MicroEncoder specifically for MDUs (multiple dwelling units) with legacy analog video feeds. The MicroEncoder makes analog content viewable as a digital TV channel on all-digital set-tops. Good for “apartments, hospitals, hotels, schools, and other commercial buildings with cable services.”

Online Video for Cable Operators

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Pretty much everyone agrees that one of the hottest topics out of The Cable Show this year was how to bring cable TV to the Web and vice versa. Depending on how you look at it, online video is both a threat to and an opportunity for traditional pay-TV providers. It has the potential to undercut subscription fees, and/or it offers a new medium for cable (and telecom) companies to expand their presence with consumers. One of the analogies that came up repeatedly in a well-attended panel last week – Online, On Demand & On TV – was a comparison of the TV business to the newspaper and music industries. Newspapers have suffered because they gave away content for free. The music industry has suffered because it tried to lock everything up, creating a “perfect storm” for piracy. Somehow the TV industry has to come up with a better solution.

Among the executives discussing online video at the panel mentioned above were representatives from content, cable, and technology companies. The content companies (Discovery and Scripps) were fairly adamant about preserving the current dual-revenue model that brings in income from both advertising and licensing fees. The cable companies (Comcast, Time Warner Cable, and Rogers) discussed current experiments with online video. And the technology companies (Motorola and Intel) talked about feasible ways to move content around, keeping it secure, easy to access, and measurable.

Among the cable companies, the approaches to online video were wide-ranging. Rogers is in an unfortunate predicament because the combination of high broadband penetration in Canada and limited content availability has already made piracy popular. Comcast, on the other hand, has had some success with Fancast – traffic continues to grow – though the Comcast representative admitted that initial expectations for the site were extremely (unreasonably) high. And finally the Time Warner exec on the panel talked about being more cautious with online video and referenced Internet trials with HBO. The general consensus among them seemed to be that Internet access to cable content should be tied to traditional cable TV subscriptions. Pay for the content once, get access to it anywhere.

Without going into the difficult details – like how to authenticate and authorize users online – the model of tying TV subscriptions to Internet access has merit. Still, it’s not going to be popular among the digerati, the folks today who want to cut the cord and rely solely on free Internet video. Motorola’s John Burke suggested an alternative: Could video targeting technologies and better data collection of user viewing habits  help fund online cable video? There are serious privacy implications of course, but no more so than with many other situations today where consumers trade their data for convenience and/or discounts. (EZPass, credit cards, vendor mailing lists, etc. ) At any rate, data monitoring and analysis technologies should be part of the discussion.

It comes down to this: consumers are anxious to get cable video online, and cable operators are anxious to give it to them, as long as it’s economically feasible. Will everyone end up completely satisfied? Probably not, but there’s still a lot too be gained for everyone involved. Content companies get better distribution, cable operators extend their reach, and consumers get access to premium content whenever, wherever, and however they want it.

Final note- There are many overlapping areas for disucssion here that don’t fit  into a single blog post, including the role of video on demand, the infrastructure required to support massive online video distribution, and the controversial topic of consumption-based billing for Internet use. Another time, another blog post.