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OCAP for the rest of us at NCTA

Sat, 03/31/2007 - 8:00pm
CableLabs staff

Since the Consumer Electronics Show in early January, MSO momentum has quickened regarding the OpenCable Applications Platform, or OCAP. The pace is picking up for an assortment of reasons, going beyond one of OCAP’s original goals, which was to foster a retail environment for the services that run on OpenCable-grade set-tops and consumer electronics devices. One key reason is the desire to present OCAP as part of a common national platform for innovation–a platform for collaboration between MSOs and third-party application developers.

NCTA PreviewIt follows that as OCAP moves more deeply into the cable mainstream, the time is right to also advance the topic into the mainstream of the applications developer community. That’s the primary motivation behind the first OCAP Developers Conference, to be held in Las Vegas at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Sunday, May 6, and on the morning of Monday, May 7–concurrent with the annual Cable Show.

“There are more than 5 million individuals qualified to write Java applications,” said Don Dulchinos, SVP of Advanced Platforms for CableLabs, referring to the underlying code of OCAP. “With this conference, we’re reaching out to those among them who have an interest in developing for television.”

The conference, co-produced by CableLabs and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), aims to better acquaint the software and applications development community with the OCAP platform, from a technical and a business perspective. “In a way, this is the cable industry waving the checkered flag to signal the start for third-party OCAP applications and services capable of running on a nationwide cable platform,” said Mark Bell, vice president, industry affairs, NCTA.

A quick refresher: OCAP is a way for cable operators, program networks, and other, third-party content providers to create and launch a wave of interactive services that will likely attract new revenue streams. Application creators write their “app” once, and provided it meets the OCAP specifications, have it run on any OCAP set-top or integrated digital device.

Those third parties might be content developers for program networks or advertisers. Maybe they’re parallel innovators from related industries, such as online commerce or search. In all cases, one of the primary benefits of OCAP is its national reach, across a growing portion of the digital video footprint of all MSO geographies.

Program networks, for instance, can use OCAP authoring tools to build interactive triggers into a particular program, to create affinity, nationally, with cable customers. Examples include letting viewers play along with or vote on a show, or helping people find related material for a show.

Advertisers might use OCAP as a way to launch a national campaign across the cable industry, with “write once/run everywhere” certainty, so that viewers can easily interact with ads of interest. Maybe they click for more information about a car, or to add their name to a list for a free sample. Further, metrics of viewership, usage and behavior could be made available, aggregated across MSOs.

Conference specifics
The conference begins with an industry “level-set” for the OCAP market and technology state-of-the-state, from involved cable technologists Chris Bowick, CTO of Cox; James Mumma, director, iTV Product Development, Comcast Corp.; Mike Hayashi, SVP of advanced engineering and subscriber technologies for Time Warner Cable; and Arthur Orduna, SVP of policy and products for Advance-Newhouse. Their imperative is to discuss OCAP deployment status and schedules and challenges they’ve faced so far, as they’ve prepped their headends for OCAP.

The remainder of the program traces an OCAP application from its inception, through a plausible cable transport path, to necessary business models and economics.
A session on Monday is targeted at creative developers who want to build an OCAP application. It demonstrates the use of a developer tool to show, step by step, what it takes to create an application, including OCAP simulator and set-top testing.

For applications developers armed with a great idea for an interactive application, and who want to know more about application “look and feel,” the conference includes an afternoon session led by Dale Herigstad, chief creative officer at interactive agency Schematic Inc.

If you miss anything on Sunday, a wrap-up morning session on Monday summarizes the previous day, and gathers business-facing perspectives from senior members of the MSO community: Mark Hess, senior VP digital television for Comcast; Steve Necessary, VP of video product development and support for Cox Communications; Joan Gilman, president of Time Warner Cable Media Sales; and Patrick Donoghue, VP of Interactive Television, Time Warner Cable.

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