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ESPN Ups Number of 3D Events for the Year

Earlier this month in a conversation at The Cable Show, Bryan Burns of ESPN suggested that the network’s new 3D channel would showcase 65 events in 2010 even after the World Cup. But reporter Glen Dickson got the scoop at a recent conference that ESPN will likely feature a total of 100 3D events this year. That’s up from the original projection of 85.

Given production expenses, ESPN’s commitment to its new channel signals just how much the network is betting on the popularity of 3D TV. Money isn’t the only thing ESPN is investing either. One of the most interesting things I learned from Burns is how different it is to shoot a 3D event from a 2D one. Production crews are re-learning their jobs to accommodate the different perspective afforded by an additional dimension.

HD sports broadcasts use a lot of tight shots and quick cuts. That doesn’t work in 3D. In fact, if you watched The Masters last month, you may have noticed that there were no close-up shots following the ball. Instead, the cameramen pulled their shots out until the ball got close to landing. That’s a radically different approach to sports broadcasting.

In other news, Dickson reports that ESPN just finished shooting its first 3D promotional spot around the “This is SportsCenter” theme. If it’s half as funny as the Landon Donovan spot they’re airing now, I might have to take in some 3D coverage just for the commercials.

Frivolous FiOS Fun

Since we are in the TV business, I like to keep an eye out for new content deals from Motorola customers.  Today Verizon announced some juicy sneak preview offers for its premium channels.

Like sports? The Tennis Channel is available for free on FiOS until June 4th, perfect timing for a little French Open coverage. MLB Extra Innings hits its turn in the preview rotation during the week of July 15th. Prefer movies? HBO and Cinemax will both be free of charge from June 25th to June 28th, and Epix joins the party with freebie access from July 16th to July 18th.

TV service providers have gotten better at marketing their premium wares, but I’m still waiting for a bit more in the try-and-buy department. For example, when will we see widespread deployment of that Showtime teaser app demoed so heavily at the 2009 Cable Show? Give me free movies and TV episodes coupled with an easy way to impulse buy, and you may get me hooked.

Motorola Set-Top Launching with 4 Tuners, 500GB Storage

Here’s a set-top for the Japanese market that’s sure to make US consumers a little jealous. Long-time Motorola customer KDDI will launch the VIP2060 on June 2nd as part of the provider’s “au Hikari” service. The HD DVR set-top sports 500GB of storage, four tuners, and the ability to deliver IPTV signals as well as terrestrial and satellite broadcasts. The Motorola VIP2060 supports 1Gpbs fiber connections, MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 encoding, and KDDI’s service allowing subscribers to transfer content between set-tops and mobile devices. Talk about fixed-mobile convergence.

Sound Bites: Wi-Fi, Hybrid Networks, & Content Management

One of the behind-the-scenes sessions Motorola held at The Cable Show was an analyst roundtable with GMs John Burke (Broadband Home Solutions) and Joe Cozzolino (Access Networks). Here are a few of the nuggets I gleaned from that session, covering everything from cable’s wireless play to the cable IP video migration.

On Wi-Fi

As wireless broadband usage accelerates, Joe Cozzolino believes cable will pursue new Wi-Fi solutions aggressively. WiMAX and LTE will only get service providers part of the way in providing the bandwidth consumers demand. Wi-Fi will be a key piece of the puzzle for cable wireless services.

On IP Video

One analyst at the Motorola roundtable wanted to know how cable companies will be able to compete in an IP world. John Burke responded that many cable operators are addressing IP with infrastructure and even CPE upgrades. (Motorola’s HD set-tops have embedded DOCSIS modems now.) Some may make a complete shift, but most will take an evolutionary approach to introducing IP. The good news is that by moving the application environment into the cloud, it’s possible to distribute content and services across multiple types of network equipment. Metadata is an important piece of that content and service management.

On Fiber-to-the-Home

Does the cable industry need to push fiber to the home? According to Joe Cozzolino, the answer is probably “no” for the next decade. That doesn’t mean operators won’t need to push fiber deeper into their networks, but DOCSIS-based solutions will still dominate in cable for the foreseeable future.

On Tru2way

Where are things headed with Tru2way? According to John Burke, Tru2way is out there, but it’s unclear how much value it provides to operators. If operators truly want a multi-screen strategy, Tru2way doesn’t work.

On Video Management Software

Just how big is the video management market? John Burke highlighted several factors worth considering. If you think about an environment of constrained bandwidth, and the fact that consumers want access to more and more video, a lot of the value in delivery starts to accrue back to software solutions that allow operators to provide the highest value content. Motorola has invested significantly in that space, and the company’s acquisitions are an indication of where Motorola believes the market is headed.

Extending Bandwidth: Density, Encoding, and Switched Digital Video

UPDATED with correct video link

Yes, switched digital video may be making a comeback. But before we get to that (in a future post), take a look at this Motorola video from The Cable Show on broadband demands, and the array of techniques being used by operators to extend bandwidth.

Note: The YouTube embed function is not working. Click on the image above to see the video on YouTube.

The Greatest, Greenest CMTS

Broadband infrastructure requires a lot of energy, but exactly how much depends on the equipment you use. Motorola has collected publicly available data on a few of the top Cable Modem Termination Systems (CMTSs) on the market and determined energy usage per data stream. Specifically, the green line on the chart below indicates the number of DOCSIS 3.0 streams that can be powered the by a single Watt of energy. The Motorola BSR 64000 far outpaces the competition with regards to streams powered per Watt. Meanwhile, the blue and red bars on the chart indicate the number of downstream and upstream channels that can fit in a single CMTS chassis. More channels per chassis mean fewer chassis overall.

I-CMTS Power Performance Rating

Source:  Motorola using publicly available data motorola.com, arris.com and cisco.com – Click to enlarge

Of course the other benefit to greater stream density and efficiency is lower costs. The chart below illustrates the costs of powering and cooling a CMTS per DOCSIS 3.0 stream. Once again, Motorola comes out ahead, lowering costs by as much as 50% per stream.

Annual I-CMTS Energy Costs

Source:  Motorola using publicly available data motorola.com, arris.com and cisco.com – Click to enlarge

Source:  Motorola using publicly available data motorola.com, arris.com and cisco.com – Click to enlarge

On Google TV, Part Two

Good friend Paul Rodriguez over at the NCTA pointed my attention this afternoon to a post over at CNET on the promise of Google TV. The author focuses on the idea that Google can open up the TV ecosystem, making the television interface simpler and combining paid cable content with freely available Internet video. The sentiment is understandable, but the post is missing some critical context. A new Google layer for television would not plug into existing cable services, and any direct deals Google might do with television networks would have to be negotiated around deals already in place with cable and telco TV providers. Google could certainly make an impact, but not at the level envisioned in the CNET post. Also, without working directly with cable and telco companies to use their networks, Google will be reliant on Internet transmission of any content. That’s workable up to a point, but the approach doesn’t scale well given today’s home broadband connections and local network traffic loads. And that doesn’t even get into caps on home broadband usage.

The good news is that with big Internet companies like Google getting into the TV market, there’s continuing pressure on cable and telco operators to advance their own services. The industry is moving toward IP, which allows for access to more content, a better multi-screen strategy, and faster deployment of new software and services. In short, the pay TV operators are bringing the good stuff from the Internet to their own platforms. It won’t happen overnight, but these service providers have already done a lot of the heavy lifting around infrastructure support and proving out a business model that works.

It’s conceivable that Google could end up working with cable and telco providers (or with a company like Motorola), but an independent, mass-market solution is not in the cards any time soon – at least not a solution that can compete with what’s already available on TV.