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Rounding Out the Cable Show Coverage


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


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.

Online Video for Cable Operators


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.

Exclusive Video: Move DVR Content with Motorola MOVR

While The Cable Show is now over for another year, I’ve collected plenty of related content for an ongoing series of posts. First up: This video shows a demo of the Motorola MOVR, which is an evolution of the MCUBE concept device I wrote about last September. (Just discovered Motorola has an official video up of this as well.) The MOVR connects to your DVR set-top via USB and acts as its own Web server to make your recorded content available on any wireless, Internet-connected device. Dave Zatz saw the MOVR on site at The Cable Show as well, and has his take over at Zatz Not Funny.

There’s still no official word on when or how this gadget might be available, but my guess is that it would would sell/lease through a TV service provider. As with the MCUBE, the Motorola MOVR transcodes content from your DVR to a format that works best on whatever end device you’re using – adjusting for SD or HD, changing resolutions and encoding schemes, and adapting the bit rate as needed.

Also of interest, the end of this video shows how Motorola has added a video monitoring function to the MOVR as well. You can feed video from a camera in the home to the MOVR and then out over the Internet.

The Cable Show: Photos from the Booth


I’ve been collecting content from panels, conversations, and demos, but it takes time to turn that raw information into coherent posts. So in the meantime, here’s a selection of photos from the Motorola booth on The Cable Show floor: 3D TV, new DOCSIS 3.0 retail modems, Internet apps on the set-top, and more.

The Roadmap for Tru2way


Interactive TV got a bad name back in the nineties when poor execution (and financial meltdowns) took all of the momentum out of the iTV movement. So some people are quite reasonably skeptical when the topic of interactive television comes up today. Fortunately the environment – from technology standards to market competition – has changed radically. As one of the execs on yesterday’s interactive TV panel put it: It looks “real” this time.

With EBIF and tru2way rollouts happening now, interactive TV is only one part of the enhanced television game. Updated program guides are top of the list on operators’ tru2way agenda (Comcast’s Mark Hess called it “job 1”), and, as we finally confirmed late Tuesday, Time Warner Cable has partnered with Motorola to bring out multiroom or whole-home DVR using the tru2way platform.

In addition, the retail market is poised and ready to bring out new tru2way devices to plug into the cable networks. Comcast’s Hess laid out some of the challenges ahead, including the chicken-and-egg problem of which comes first: the network, the apps, or the hardware? However, he also predicted that more retail tru2way devices will filter out later this year, with CES 2010 set up to be a major showcase for new tru2way product launches.

Perhaps the right term for the industry’s attitude now is cautiously optimistic. Everyone is quick to do a reality check when the hype gets a little too loud, but at the same time, there is real excitement about the potential for enhanced television on this go-around. It really does look “real” this time.

Operators Speak Out at The Cable Show


The first general session at The Cable Show was a Who’s Who of the industry. Moderated by William Kennard of the Carlyle Group, the panel consisted of Cox president Pat Esser, Suddenlink CEO Jerald Kent, Clearwire chairman Craig McCaw, and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts. Everyone was generally in agreement about cable’s issues and opportunities, except when the moderator brought up the topic of wireless services. While Comcast and Cox are bullish on wireless, Suddenlink’s Kent is not convinced his company needs it, and he referred to the failed Pivot venture. I’d argue that we’re in a very different environment than the one that existed when Pivot was tried. Consumers are on board with mobile broadband now, and wireless is a good way for cable to extend its broadband reach beyond the home.

Aside from wireless, one of the big issues addressed was the “threat” of online video. Roberts was remarkably upbeat on the topic, calling online video “friend not foe” for the cable industry. At the same time, the panel discussed the fact that the industry doesn’t know what the successful business model will be for them yet. They referenced the failures of the music and newspaper industries, and suggested it won’t work either to lock everything up, or to give it all away for free. Cable needs a hybrid approach.