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Finding the right fit for turnkey platforms

Tue, 06/30/2009 - 8:30pm
Mike Robuck, Senior Editor

Selecting the right turnkey platform is somewhat akin to going to a restaurant for the first time and selecting the prix fixe dinner. While you want to satisfy the palate without it taking a huge bite out of your wallet, the last thing you want is something that fails to suit your appetite. There are a lot of turnkey platforms to select from, but asking questions is key to finding the right kind of offering for your network, according to the Comcast Media Center’s Gary Traver.

Gary Traver
Traver

“We’ve been doing a fair amount of analysis over the last year about this very thing,” said Traver, who is the CMC’s senior vice president and COO. “What it gets down to is in order for you to be a turnkey provider, you have to provide a whole measure of other components besides just delivering the service into the headend, parking it there and then asking someone to pick it up.”

The CMC provides an ecosystem of turnkey offerings, including Hits Quantum, the National Authorization Service (NAS), QT+, VOD In a Box, Hits AxIS and a new remote ad insertion network service, all of which can function independently, or together.

“One of the sectors of a turnkey solution is you have to help people with understanding the core economics of the products that they’re putting in,” Traver said. “The second thing is we have to help people with elements of the entire system, even things that go beyond our traditional service border. That’s why we’ve aligned ourselves with several hardware manufacturers so they understand the range of the full solution that is available. The third part we’re focusing on is the product itself, and helping people understand how to relate the product to their customer base. We have a series of reports and metrics to help them with their business.”

The CMC’s vendor partners include Motorola and Arris, as well as feeds from SES Americom for Hits Quantum.

“What we’ve done philosophically is our whole goal has changed not to be just a service provider, but also really focusing on driving up and increasing the operational cash flow of these organizations that we support,” Traver said. “In order for us to do that, we came up with the depth and breadth of the services that we provide. What I have my team focusing on is not just providing solutions, but how they’re driving improvements in operational cash flow.”

Evolution Broadband also has a turnkey platform for cable operators, albeit from a different angle than the CMC. Last month, Evolution was granted a three-year waiver on two of its low-cost STBs that are equipped with DTAs.

The waiver allows Evolution to offer a turnkey platform to small- and medium-size cable operators that includes the low-end STBs with Conax smartcards and the DTAs, which allow the operators to convert their analog tiers to digital to reclaim bandwidth. While the one-way set-tops can stand alone or serve as second and third boxes in the home, Evolution recently struck a deal with TiVo to use its high-end Series3 HD DVRs, which will come with Conax’s CableCard.

The TiVo deal will allow Evolution’s cable customers access to Internet content from the likes of Amazon and Netflix, which gives smaller cable operators a VOD-like service without the expensive network equipment. In addition to Internet movies and shows, Evolution also has a deal in place with Avail Media for linear content.

“This waiver now enables us to aggressively go out there with confidence to package all of this together. We have one particular operator, who we will be able to announce over the next few weeks, who plans to do a very broad deployment of our turnkey solution, including TiVo,” said Evolution President Brent Smith. “What we’re looking at for a turnkey solution is that we would go into an operator that has limited MPEG-2 legacy equipment, or no MPEG-2 legacy, and drop in a single-rack Avail headend with the full security piece in place that supports both DTA converters in MPEG-4, as well as TiVo boxes for advanced services and for HD.”

IPTV TURNKEY OFFERINGS
Turnkey platforms have also played a key role over in the IPTV space as small- and medium-size telcos have installed them as a way to offer competing video services against their cable and satellite rivals.

There has also been a vacuum of sorts after SES Americom announced late last year that it would be shutting down its IP-Prime transport service at the end of this month. EchoStar signed up two former IP-Prime customers in June for its ViP-TV transport service. While EchoStar’s current offering consists of a transport service for its MPEG-4, IP-encapsulated video, Steve Skalski, vice president of EchoStar’s ViP-TV division, said work is currently underway for an end-to-end turnkey platform.

“We have a couple of trials underway to offer an end-to-end solution all the way to the set-top box with EchoStar technology,” Skalski said. “It will be a white-label product where the service providers can do their own branding on the on-screen guides.”

Service providers can take all of EchoStar’s current services in both HD and SD formats, or just in HD. Skalski said VOD is on the company’s roadmap, but currently customers want HD and DVRs.

Skalski said ViP-TV is able to leverage Dish Network’s video experience and assets, including the broadcast center in Chandler, Ariz. Once the end-to-end turnkey platform is up and running, it could offer local channels in markets where Dish is deployed.

Avail Media, which recently merged with TVN Entertainment, has its own turnkey platform, as well. In March, Avail announced it had added nine former SES Americom IP-Prime customers to its affiliate base, and in June it added 25. Avail delivers a combination of MPEG-4 linear IPTV, HD Overlay – including MPEG-2 and MPEG-4 – programming and VOD offerings to its affiliates.

Brian Matthews
Matthews

“One of the key differentiators for Avail on the market is that we do a lot of the heavy lifting in regard to the integration, while IP-Prime left the integration to the operator,” said Brian Matthews, Avail’s CMO. “We’ve integrated with Minerva, Cisco, Latens, Verimatrix, Widevine and others, and we continue to update our integrations. What we do from a business perspective is allow the service providers to pick the vendors that work best with their networks instead of dictating to them which vendors to use.”

TVN’s customer list for its VOD services include Verizon, Comcast, Charter, Bresnan, Suddenlink and Armstrong, with Time Warner Cable added last month.

“Avail Media’s strategy and vision has always been to deliver an integrated, managed turnkey solution to service providers, and that’s inclusive of both linear and on-demand content,” Matthews said. “The merger with TVN increased the bouquet of content we have significantly, and also accelerates our distribution into the cable space, as well.”

Matthews said Avail/TVN’s strength was to abstract the complexity out of delivering video services to service providers’ customers, while also tailoring those services to each operator’s respective market. Avail/TVN is also working on ways to get video content to the second and third screens for consumers.

“We’re still in the early stages of lab work and pilots,” Matthews said. “We’ll do pilots first to the PC, and then to mobile devices, but for mobile we’re looking at 2010 or 2011.”

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