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Who is Watching Online Video?

Hulu online video

A couple of articles caught my eye today that give a snapshot of online video watching in the here and now. Last summer Dan Rayburn estimated that fewer than three million consumers stream online video to their TVs using a hardware solution like the Xbox or Roku box. Today he says that number has hardly changed in almost a year. The analysis doesn’t appear to factor in people who watch online video on their computers, but the assumption is likely that a computer will never compete in the mainstream against a big-screen TV.

Meanwhile, Todd Spangler cites a recent Nielsen/CTAM study that shows the heaviest viewers of online video watch about an hour and a half worth of online content per week and roughly 21 hours of regular TV. These “Extreme Techies” are primarily male, in their early thirties, and have an average income of $67,000.

So who’s watching online video? Apparently not that many people. Yet. Which is part of why the money side of the business is so hard to figure out.

“Headend 2.0″ with MPEG-4 Rate Shaping for Europe

Motorola headend 2 cap1000 apex1000 rem1000 ANGAIt’s pretty, it’s shiny, it’s red, and it does MPEG-4 rate shaping.

The new Motorola “headend 2.0″ solution launched at the ANGA Cable Show this week plugs some serious holes in the European cable infrastructure market, and it does so after a period of years when Motorola’s involvement in the space has been limited. For one thing, the solution (details in a moment) supports DVB SimulCrypt conditional access (CA) technology. Simulcrypt is used by ninety-odd percent of the European cable operators, and until now Motorola hasn’t focused its technology efforts to support the Simulcrypt CA scheme, hence the limited presence in Europe.

More importantly, however, the new Motorola solution offers a capability that is virtually non-existent from other European cable infrastructure providers: MPEG-4 rate shaping. Unlike in the US, all HD content in Europe is delivered using MPEG-4 rather than MPEG-2. With MPEG-4 rate shaping capabilities in the headend, European operators can now do a lot more to optimize bandwidth while mitigating the risk of packet dropping. Motorola is demonstrating the solution by delivering four MPEG-4 HD streams and four MPEG-2 SD streams over a single QAM channel. It would certainly be possible to cram more into the space of one QAM channel, but the purpose here is to show that the quality of all eight video streams isn’t compromised through rate shaping. Operators gain capacity. Consumers continue to get high-quality HD and SD video.

The other upside of the Motorola solution is that it’s made up of several pieces that all work well together and support the widely-deployed network management platform DataMiner. DataMiner provides a view into the entire operation of a cable provider’s network for monitoring and diagnostic activities.

So what makes up the Motorola “headend 2.0″?

Glad you asked, right? ;) According to folks on the ground at ANGA, the new Motorola solution is getting a lot of attention from European operators.

Broadband in America

Fiber optic cable highways roads federal infrastructure

Here’s something I missed last week. Apparently there’s a new bill circulating in Congress proposing that fiber conduits be deployed as part of any federal highway project. How utterly sensible. This would significantly lower the cost for providers that later want to come in and lay the actual fiber optic cable. Between the combination of stimulus money for highway projects and broadband deployment, this also sounds like the kind of thing that could actually get funded.

It’s tough to build out any kind of infrastructure, and frankly I doubt the Interstate system we have in place could ever be built if we had to start it today (environmental and community objections, etc). Broadband infrastructure doesn’t necessarily have the same difficulties facing it as new roads do, but I’m nonetheless in favor or anything that makes build-out easier.

Meanwhile, remember that more than 60% of US cable operators have plans this year to light up fiber that’s already in the ground. And the Administration has its own national broadband plan in the works due out in the fall. The plan should extend broadband access further, particularly in critically under-served rural areas.

70% DOCSIS 3.0 Market Share & the 200MB Home

There are two notable DOCSIS 3.0 announcements coming out of the ANGA cable show this morning. First, Telia Stofa (part of TeliaSonera) has decided to deploy Motorola EuroDOCSIS 3.0 cable modems. Perhaps not all that interesting in and of itself, but tucked into the release is a note that Infonetics has put a number on data supports significant Motorola leadership in the D3 space. Specifically, by comparing Infonetics D3 market data with Motorola shipment numbers at the end of 2008, Motorola comes out with 70% market share in DOCSIS 3.0 CPE. The last time I looked closely at market share numbers, DOCSIS 3.0 wasn’t even part of the equation. Apparently the numbers have been good to Motorola with the D3 variable now in the mix.

Second, Motorola announced that Virgin Media is using the Motorola BSR 64000 CMTS for its DOCSIS 3.0 deployments along with the TX32 modules for added downstream bandwidth. Virgin made headlines earlier this month for its 200-Mbps service trials. Given Motorola’s involvement with Virgin, I’m hoping to get more detail as the months progress on how consumers feel about the 200MB home. Pretty good, I’d expect.

ISPs Add Smart Services to “Dumb” Pipes

ESPN360

Don’t expect the speed marketing wars or the HDTV channel race to disappear any time soon, but suddenly it seems the major operators are getting quite competitive with their other value-add services. Call it generosity or call it savvy marketing, I’m just thrilled to reap the benefit.

As a Comcast subscriber, I’ve made use of the free email accounts and free McAfee security software for years. I even used Comcast PhotoShow software (no longer available) for a while back in 2004. However, those benefits pale in comparison to more recent free service additions. Comcast, like Cablevision, has added free Wi-Fi at select train station hotspots, and, even better, Comcast announced just this week that it has signed a deal with ESPN to offer free access to ESPN360 online. Starting “in time for college football season,” I’ll be able to plug in my username and password and watch marquee sports online to my heart’s content.

The ESPN business model online is fascinating (and potentially troublesome) in that it requires a carriage agreement in order for a consumer to view the ESPN360 site. Setting that aside for now though, the concept that ISPs are adding on fantastic freebies suddenly takes us out of the realm where broadband price and speed dictate all. This is where broadband operators are hitting their sweet spot. Commodity service? Hardly. I expect we’ll see more and more experimentation where operators leverage their content relationships and technology assets (wireless, voice, etc.) to create bundles that look like anything but the plain vanilla broadband services of yesteryear.