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Broadband 50 2009 ~ They! Could! Go! All! The! Way!

Sat, 10/31/2009 - 8:35pm
CED staff

CED’s ninth-annual Broadband 50 sticks a fork in the biggest trends, deals and technologies of 2009. It’s worth noting that our top item, TV Everywhere, didn’t exist on anyone’s list last year, which just goes to show that cable can turn on a dime. We ran the year’s biggest stories by our panel of primetime players in the cable industry, and the following 50 hit paydirt.

CED’s ninth-annual Broadband 50

1 TV Everywhere takes off
It’s a good thing the cable industry has TV Everywhere to talk about, otherwise we would be left with more time to ponder what went wrong with Canoe Ventures’ first product launch.

Ever since Time Warner Chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes earlier this year brokered the idea of cable operators, telcos and DBS service providers sending content over the Internet to subscribers’ PCs or to mobile devices, TV Everywhere has caught fire.

Comcast started a trial of its On Demand Online, which is its version of TV Everywhere, in July with 5,000 users before announcing it would launch nationwide in December. Time Warner Cable started with 300 in its trial but said it would expand to 6,000 in the near future.

Comcast is working with 24 networks and is using its own Web portals for the video content that is sent over the Internet to its subscribers, while Time Warner Cable is using the Web portals of TNT and TBS.

Verizon has also climbed aboard Time Warner’s TV Everywhere bandwagon, while DirecTV has reportedly struck a deal of its own.

Not everyone was willing to throw in with Time Warner, as AT&T decided to launch its own portal via a partnership with Hulu, and Canada’s Bell TV said it would work with ExtendMedia on a service that mirrors TV Everywhere. – Mike Robuck

2 Street legal!
In June, the Supreme Court finally settled the dispute about remote-storage digital video recorders (RS-DVR): The scheme is legal. This could be huge.

The concept behind the RS-DVR (aka, the network personal video recorder, or nPVR) is simple. Instead of putting a separate, expensive, prone-to-failure storage device in every DVR subscriber’s home, service providers would host the storage media in their facilities and serve recorded content at the subscriber’s request.

The deal is that no matter how many subscribers want to store any given piece of content, the service provider must store one discrete copy per subscriber. The approach is inefficient to the point of stupidity, but if that’s how the law works, well, fine. On the plus side, the cost of storage keeps plummeting.

From the operator’s standpoint, with RS-DVR, subscribers’ recorded (and owned) content becomes another category of on-demand. To make it work, the service provider needs to have in place a fairly sophisticated network configuration capable of switching video. That may be why Cablevision didn’t immediately introduce the capability. Time Warner Cable said Start Over can be easily modified to support RS-DVR.

It’s coming.

At the moment, DVR penetration is at about one-third of U.S. households. But once the switching infrastructure is in place, DVR “penetration” has the potential to automatically jump by a significant percentage. – Brian Santo

3 Clear! – Cable’s quad play comes to life
Cable’s quad-play ambition got a kick start this year, with Comcast’s aspirations currently out in front.

In June, Comcast began private-labeling Clearwire’s Clear mobile WiMAX service in Portland, Ore., becoming the first large cable operator to offer a 4G wireless service. Comcast has since launched Clear in Philadelphia and Hot ‘Lanta, and it plans to bring it to Chicago and Seattle before year’s end.

Time Warner Cable’s first launch of 4G wireless will be on Dec. 1 in the North Carolina cities of Charlotte, Greensboro and Raleigh. TWC has plans to begin reselling Clear in Dallas later this year and in Hawaii early next.

By the end of December, 4G service is expected to be available to more than 30 million people in more than 25 markets. And in 2010, Clearwire plans to launch 4G in New York City, Boston, Washington, D.C., Houston and the San Francisco Bay Area, among other cities, for a total of about 80 nationwide markets.

Cox, meanwhile, is still working on launching its own 3G wireless network – which will use Qualcomm’s Brew technology – before year’s end, but the op has been mum as of late about details. – Traci Patterson

4 Brother, can you spare an F-connector?
Cautious optimism is about the best cable can do in 2009. The recession has certainly had an impact on all facets of the industry, most notably with the downturn in the equipment and manufacturing sectors.

Broadband subscriber growth, said analyst Mike Jude of Frost & Sullivan, flat-lined in early ’09 only to pick up in the second half. And revenue is not down significantly. But he warned that “carriers will tell you we’re seeing the end of the recession, and they’re rolling out new services. We’re not sure that’s a leading indicator of better times.”

DOCSIS 3.0 deployments slowed a bit as operators hedged their bets into 2010, while overall subscriber counts are increasing on the digital and broadband sides. Packaged services such as the quad play are seeing significant pushes by operators, while heavy discounting has been a necessary byproduct of the recession and intensifying competition.

The recession has forced more emphasis on packaging and price pressures as people stay home more often for their entertainment during the downturn.

There are signs of improvement, albeit slight. Pyramid Research predicted the nation’s communications market, which includes cable, will grow at a CAGR of 2.5 percent from year-end 2009 to year-end 2014. – Craig Kuhl

5 Out with the old, in with the old
Bureaucracy and technology have much in common. There’s always just enough change to make it seem like things are new. It’s a little too early to figure out whether the “new” FCC under Julius Genachowski will be better or worse than Kevin Martin’s old FCC. It will be different, if only because Genachowski, who cut his bureaucratic teeth during the Reed Hundt days, is good buds with President Obama, who has a different agenda than former President George W. Bush.

For cable and its band of loyal lobbyists, the differences between old and new might not be as immediately relevant as they are for wireless, where the FCC’s focus seems stuck. Broadband mobile had the attention – and, generally, the support – of Martin’s crew, and indications are that Genachowski will make it a top priority.

Cable, having had its ownership mess pushed into the courts, will continue to fight the battle of net neutrality, and the industry must always watch that it doesn’t overstep the bounds of pricing and customer service to the point where politicos notice. But at this point, it appears that the Genachowski FCC is more interested in industry-wide wireless broadband initiatives and solving net neutrality than banging a gavel on cable’s head for past sins. – Jim Barthold

6 Fast and furious
Did the new regime at the FCC lead to the flurry of waivers for digital terminal adapter (DTA) vendors, or was it the fact that Comcast is a big proponent of the devices that allow it to reclaim bandwidth?

Either way, the dam broke for DTA waivers from the FCC this year after Evolution Broadband was granted a three-year waiver in June. From there, Cisco, Motorola, Pace, Thomson and Nagravision were granted similar waivers for the low-cost, limited-capability set-top boxes that skirt the FCC’s 2007 integrated security ban by not using CableCards.

Cable operators are able to reclaim bandwidth for advanced services or more HD channels by using the DTAs. Comcast has relied on DTAs as it converts analog channels to digital via its Project Cavalry initiative. Fringe benefit: It allows Comcast to put off deploying switched digital video. During a second-quarter earnings call earlier this year, Comcast said it had deployed 1.4 million DTAs by mid-summer. – MR

7 Canoe Ventures: Just the coxswain
It really should not have been a surprise that Canoe Ventures failed to deliver a common advertising platform by mid-2009.

There’s any number of ways to deliver addressable advertising, and any number of vendors could do it today. A standardized way to do it across major MSOs, though? That’s a tough nut.

To be fair, Canoe can only be as successful as its MSO investors make it. They’ve got to deploy EBIF/tru2way across their entire footprints, and they didn’t. Addressable advertising is important, but neither satellite nor the telcos are all that close to having it yet, either. Nascent technology + minimal competitive threat = lower prioritization.

Canoe couldn’t deliver a complete platform, but as a compensatory measure, it promised an EBIF-based interactive advertising application available before the year is out. Next year? Canoe isn’t going to let itself get pinned down on any dates now that it understands how enormous the task at hand is.

CableLabs and the SCTE are trying to contribute with several standards. The most prominent among them might be SCTE 130, which describes several configurations of an idealized addressable advertising delivery system. Note the plural – if there’s more than one configuration, is it technically a “standard”?

Meanwhile, there are still billions of dollars at stake. It’s clear that interactive and addressable advertising remain thoroughly worthwhile pursuits. Cablevision, along with partner Visible World, is experimenting with addressable ads right now. DirecTV, working with Invidi, plans on starting sometime soon, and Dish Network, also with Invidi, is talking about 2011. Time Warner Cable is doing Promotions On Demand in some of its West Coast systems, and Comcast Spotlight is all over the subject, just to mention a few examples. – BS

8 Digital migration push
With an estimated 40 million low-cost digital converter boxes in the market, and nearly 200 million digital set-tops worldwide, the highly anticipated transition to digital fired up in 2009.

With it comes freed-up bandwidth targeted for high-end customers with HD and on-demand, as well as a golden opportunity for addressable and advanced advertising – a Holy Grail of sorts for both advertisers and content providers.

MSOs are using newly available bandwidth for access to content on all devices – anytime – a familiar mantra of cable operators in 2009 as they embrace the multi-platform, multi-device strategy.

Time Warner Cable is using SDV to offer more than 100 HD channels in Los Angeles, New York and Dallas, according to TWC supplier BigBand Networks. The MSO will also launch DOCSIS 3.0 and HD VOD.

Data suggests that cable operators sell more services to digital customers, with a $17-a-month gain over analog video. All-digital is costlier, but the model makes sense for larger operators, with no upside to keeping analog, said Frost & Sullivan.

One hurdle is the cost of digital set-top boxes, which STB manufacturers are addressing – but not fast enough for most operators in 2009. – CK

9 Net neutrality: Whose highway is it?
Sometimes a government “for the people” steps on the toes of some of the people. Wireline providers built an information superhighway out of fiber and coax and figure they can set the tolls to ride on this highway. Those paying the tolls aren’t always happy with this de facto pricing. The government, looking out for the people, sees a need for the highway to benefit everyone with attractive rest stops and inexpensive tolls.

In simple terms, this is net neutrality. Get past who owns the highway and it becomes a case of the government enforcing its right to make the fast Internet everyone’s interstate. The highway builders argue that they should decide who rides on it and how much they pay to do so. Those who need to use the highway to transport their wares to customers argue they have a right to make a living and shouldn’t be gouged. The government is dangerously close to stepping in and saying what, if any, fees can be charged.

Of course, the government won’t pay to maintain and repair the highway, and that’s the crux of the issue. A poorly maintained information superhighway benefits no one; not the service providers, nor the apps developers, and certainly not the end users. A stubborn stance by any of the parties could create potholes and detours, and generally a less-efficient broadband highway. No one’s neutral about net neutrality, and that could turn out to be a big problem. – JB

10 Apps and oranges
Not only has the iPhone been a game-changer for mobile phones, but the concept of applications, and a way to manage them, has revolutionized the way companies interact with consumers, the way consumers interact with companies and the way we receive information. And it has left many scrambling to catch up.

As of late November, Apple’s App Store had more than 100,000 applications, with more than 2 billion apps downloaded. That 100,000 includes Comcast’s free app for its triple-play subs, AT&T’s U-verse TV Mobile Remote Access App and DirecTV’s DVR Scheduler App.

But service providers aren’t just thinking about the creation of applications. According to industry execs, if tru2way works out like planned, MSOs will need application stores of their own. Verizon’s already launched its Widget Bazaar applications marketplace.

Of course, earlier this year, former CableLabs CEO Dick Green said CableLabs was not investigating the model of an app store. Green observed that since Apple and Verizon are single companies, it’s easier for them to support a single point of distribution. That model would be harder to implement by a group of independent MSOs.

Either way, it will be interesting to see who the cable industry’s game-changer will be. – TP

11 DOCSIS 3.0 rolls on
No one beat the DOCSIS 3.0 drum louder than Comcast this year. Comcast launched a 100 Mbps downstream service in the Twin Cities and vowed to have DOCSIS 3.0 in 80 percent of its footprint by year’s end.

Other operators on the D3 roll call this year included Cablevision, Time Warner Cable, Rogers, Shaw, Suddenlink, Cox, Charter, Mediacom and Midcontinent. Cablevision clocked in with the fastest service in North America, while Comcast and Mediacom pushed the needle to 100 Mbps. – MR

12 Cloud computing: Ultimate security
If service providers were to host extraordinary processing power and vast amounts of storage, they could give their subs universal access to all of the content they have the rights to, along with advanced applications, anywhere that true broadband access is available. CE devices could be thin clients – far less expensive, yet far more versatile than almost anything available today. If all of that were to happen, service providers would make themselves utterly indispensable. Yes, you could in fact take over the world. – BS

13 EBIF? It's coming (wink wink, nod nod)
So cable’s taking another crack at enhanced TV with the promising, albeit clumsily named, Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF). Enhanced TV has been on the cable plate before (see wink), but this time it’s the dinner special. Comcast calls it “cool.” Since cable plays follow the leader, you’ll hear a lot about EBIF next year. – JB

14 Dense is the word for edge QAMs
With the cable industry hurtling toward more HD, more SDV, more on-demand content, and services such as Start Over, Look Back and network DVR, universal edge QAMs are becoming denser to enable all of the above. And cable operators not only want denser edge QAMs per port, but also lower power consumption and less rack space.

Edge QAMs are also breaking down silos by being able to dynamically switch between VOD, SDV and, in the near future, DOCSIS services. – MR

15 U-verse and FiOS: Is the thrill gone?
Both AT&T’s U-verse and Verizon’s FiOS competitive TV packages seem to be slowing down. Both are still adding subs at a hefty pace, however, and AT&T now lists about 1.8 million U-verse customers, while Verizon claims to recently have hit the 1 million sub mark. Small numbers compared with cable, of course, but they’re coming from somewhere. Expect both carriers to use their strong wireless positions to bolster their TV offerings with bundled packages. – JB

16 Charter’s Chapter 11 rollercoaster
Once upon a time, well within our current decade, Wall Street LOVED debt. Charter Communications’ timing was just really, really bad. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February of this year, citing its plan to reduce its debt by $8 billion via a financial restructuring.

In September, the company was allowed to proceed with its reorganization plan, much to the dismay of lenders such as Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase & Co., who felt Charter’s investors wanted to acquire the company through the bankruptcy.

Then in October, the company amended the agreement for the third time; it could have as late as Dec. 15 to exit bankruptcy.

The money will sort itself out. Eventually. – CK

17 Show consolidation: A work in progress
There are plenty of reasons on paper for consolidating the various shows and conferences in the cable industry into two weeks in the spring and fall, but even the most casual observer would agree that a few tweaks are in order next year.

Simply put, there was too much going on during the same time frames in Washington, D.C., and Denver this year during the combined shows. The end result was diminishing returns across the board for events that once had the spotlight all to themselves. – MR

18 Home networking: Feel the fear
Consumers are trying to get their broadband-enabled devices to talk to each other – and they just don’t. The common element with all of those gadgets is broadband, so as far as your subs are concerned, this is your problem. That means sorting through the profusion of HN technology options (MoCA, gateway, HPNA, 802.11n, femtocell, Sling, HomePlug, set-top box, G.hn, WiMAX), deploying the infrastructure to monitor and manage all the products subs might plug in, training support staff, etc. And it’s not even clear if you can charge for much of this. – BS

19 Green is the new black
Green is in, and cable jumped on board this year. Green technology was the focus of the Cable-Tec Expo’s inaugural Expo Cable Technology Spotlight. The SCTE’s MSO Steering Council selected the topic, an indication that operators are ready to make conserving resources a priority. It’s also an indication that there are now enough green products, services and methods available to merit the attention.

Various MSOs have already begun various green programs, including everything from switching to fluorescents to buying hybrid vehicles for their fleets to installing new higher-efficiency equipment, including network power supplies, CPE with Energy Star approvals and network equipment designed to draw less power. But now the industry is preparing a literally concerted effort to get a bit greener. – TP

20 Business services headed up
In 2009, the “sweet spot” of commercial markets – small to mid-size businesses – became even sweeter with the advancement of IP-based technology.

Voice services, VPNs, high-speed Internet and other IP-type services continued to migrate into the SMB market, with $120 to $150 in monthly spends typical.

Most major MSOs, particularly Cox and Comcast, pushed deeper into the SMB and enterprise markets with multi-tiered commercial business plans that leveraged their residential plant.

The challenge going forward is meeting the high expectations of quality and reliability from the commercial market customer. – CK

21 CI+: The end of set-tops
Ostensibly a conditional access technique, and for Europe to boot, CI+ is yet another harbinger of the “End of the Set-Top Era.” CI+ is useful as CE companies begin integrating set-tops into their TVs for all markets. Motorola and Cisco expect their service provider customers will eventually install gateways instead of STBs. As home networking progresses, the set-top will prove a poor distribution point, anyway. Time Warner Cable is planning such a migration in a five- to six-year timeframe, and other operators have the same on their roadmaps. – BS

22 Bend me, shape me
When it comes to bandwidth, even fiber’s finite, so any combination of fiber and coaxial cable needs to be carefully managed to produce the best results. Comcast is stepping to the edge by pushing almost all of its bandwidth-sucking video content to digital to make room for more HD to compete with telcos and satellite. Others in the industry see deep packet inspection (DPI) and other traffic-shaping technologies as ways to separate the wheat from the chaff. – JB

23 Broadband stimulus: Jolt or joke? 
One analyst called it a version of the California gold rush. An estimated $7.2 billion will be available to a variety of broadband, telecom, wireless and cable companies through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Cable is pondering how it can utilize a portion of that money. For some of the smaller, independent cable systems, however, they’ve already filled out the paperwork, with 83 American Cable Association members applying for stimulus funding for 127 projects totaling $1.3 billion. – CK

24 White spaces start to fill in
The unlicensed operation of TV Band Devices (TVBDs) is prompting a wide range of applications, including broadband wireless, with the DTV transition firing up additional and unused spectrum (white spaces).

Fast wireless connectivity is expected to result from use of the unregulated spectrum, with the most notable beneficiaries being underserved or unserved markets.

This year saw the nation’s first wireless broadband network operating in the white space – Claudville, a community of 20,000 people in rural Virginia. – CK

25 YO-YO, baby
Since the spin-off, Time Warner Cable has seen an increase in RGUs each quarter, as well as an increase in year-over-year revenues – Q1 saw a 5 percent rise, while Q2 and Q3 each saw a 4 percent increase.

Net income wasn’t so lucky in the first quarter, down 32 percent year-over-year – due partly to some charges associated with the separation from former parent Time Warner Inc. But TWC’s profit bounced back in Q2, with a 14 percent increase. And then it dropped again in Q3, seeing an 11 percent decline, largely a result of the special dividend that Time Warner forced TWC to pay to finance its own spin-off.

All in all, the operator is doing just fine on its own, thank you very much. – TP

26 ACA: The good fight
This year, the American Cable Association defended its small operator family by challenging exorbitant retransmission fees, per-subscriber cable fees for its smallest members and the likes of ESPN360.com, which ACA President and CEO Matthew Polka termed a “high-cost, ‘closed Internet’ business model.”

The association also defended DTA waivers and broadband funds for small ops.

Keep up the good fight, ACA. – TP

27 Satellite, in my eyes
DirecTV lost CEO Chase Carey mid-year to News Corp., which spurred rumors that the company may be up for sale. Since then, the No. 1 satellite provider has made a commitment to TV Everywhere and continues to tack on subscribers each quarter despite the recession. Liberty Media-controlled DirecTV is set to be spun-off into a separate company in the coming months.

Dish Network? Still battling TiVo, still DBS No. 2. Dish added about 26,000 net subscribers in Q2 – its first quarterly increase in five quarters. It tacked on 241,000 in Q3. – TP

28 Roam if you want to
Wi-Fi is becoming a valued add-on for service providers, including Cablevision, Comcast, Bright House Networks, Qwest, Verizon and AT&T, and in most cases it’s free.

Since launching its Wi-Fi service in September of last year, Cablevision’s subscribers logged onto the Internet more than 3 million times by July using the company’s Wi-Fi service. Cablevision’s Wi-Fi users are averaging more than 1 million minutes online per day. Cablevision’s service, which has an estimated price tag of $300 million, has download speeds of up to 3 Mbps. – MR

29 Prepaid TV
Prepaid video services are visible in Europe and Thailand, but in our neck of the woods, not so much. Dish Network used to offer a prepaid TV option – and was the only U.S. video service provider to do so – but the company’s DishNow Prepaid programming cards expired in October.

NDS has available a CA add-on module – dubbed the VideoGuard system – that will enable pay-TV providers to offer services on a prepaid basis with minimal changes to their headend infrastructure. So far, though, no takers, at least not publicly. – TP

30 tru2way: Waitin’ for my man
Cable and CE agreed: Cable would be mostly tru2way by July 1. No, not next July, this past July. And the CE companies – which love blaming everyone else for everything in order to hide the fact that they can’t agree to anything amongst themselves – those guys didn’t even complain. Does this mean tru2way is dead? Probably not. Is it coming soon? Did somebody say “EBIF”? – BS

31 CableLabs, SCTE get new CEOs
Paul Liao, formerly of Panasonic, became CableLabs’ second president and CEO after he took over for Dick Green this year. Green had been with CableLabs since its inception in 1998.

In January, the SCTE announced that former Cedar Point executive Mark Dzuban was its new president and CEO, following a six-month search. Dzuban spent the rest of the year following through on his mission of bringing back an engineering focus to the SCTE and its members. – MR

32 SCTE Canadian Summit: Room to grow
When the SCTE announced it would hold its first Canadian Summit in Toronto in February, the typical response was, “Who wants to go to Toronto in February?” The answer was about 600 attendees – with Rogers well-represented – and 40 vendors for the two-day event.

The Summit had technical sessions for the attendees, and it also featured the presentation of the inaugural Young Canadian Engineering Professional of the Year Award, which went to Rogers’ Boris Culum. – MR

33 Hulu: Growing like a weed
According to a report released in the fall, Hulu saw its usage grow from 8 percent of households across the nation in 2008 to 32 percent this year.

Whether Hulu starts some sort of subscription service remains to be seen, but it said it won’t in the near term. Lastly, at October’s CTAM Summit in Denver, Hulu CEO Jason Kilar tossed out the idea of cable operators using Hulu as part of the authentication process while speaking on a panel. – MR

34 Backhaul: Easy money
Wireless carriers are overwhelmed with traffic. Backhaul from cell towers used to be done with T1s (now laughably insufficient). There is opportunity for cable ops to run some fiber to these towers and carry that traffic for some easy money. Starting next year, wireless carriers will begin rolling out LTE, and they plan to put femtocells into subscribers’ homes. They’re going to need backhaul there, too, and the best way to do that is via a broadband connection. And who’s got the most broadband subscribers out there? – BS

35 CMTS market: Who’s No. 1?
The big news in 2009 was that Arris, not Cisco or Motorola, was the worldwide leader in CMTS shipments. The position – which is hotly contested by Cisco, while Moto brings up the rear – has as much to do with the cable industry’s move to bandwidth-saving DOCSIS 3.0 as it does with product features. Still, one should expect the CMTS space to continue to churn as operators look to squeeze still more from their HFC networks, and as vendors add gadgetry-like channel bonding to make it happen. – JB

36 3 screens, CDN, transcoding gear up in ‘09
Entertainment, education and communications content are coming fast to online through streaming video and new formats. The result is a crucial need for content delivery networks (CDNs) to move that content across multiple screens.

In 2009, new technologies such as bandwidth throttling and FLV Seek gained favor with content providers, including the cable industry.

Transcoding elevated its game this year and will allow companies to seamlessly move content across video end products.

Why the attention? Ninety percent of American TV households subscribe to multichannel cable, satellite or telco service. – CK

37 Tweet on
Social networking is here to stay, whether you’re a fanatic Facebooker or Tweeter or a hater of both.

Comcast and Qwest made headlines this year by using Twitter to improve customer service. And Verizon has jumped on the bandwagon with its Widget Bazaar applications marketplace, which launched this year with free Facebook, Twitter and ESPN Fantasy Football widgets. The Twitter Widget allows FiOS TV subs to follow tweets related specifically to the program, movie or sporting event they are watching.

With vendors such as Integra5 – with its MediaFriends suite of social media apps – and Latens – with its Eco Cable Gateway that integrates social networking sites – out in the market, this space should get progressively more interesting. – TP

38 QoS/QoE: Perception trumps reality
Every year, cable promises better service and a better customer experience, and every year the industry apparently believes it. Then it promises the same thing the next year.

Things might actually be getting better, but consumer perception of how much quality they get from their cable operators is still summed up by the Verizon FiOS commercial of a Verizon-sponsored focus group, where the cable guy asks: “And why are we talking to customers, anyway?” Cable’ll get ‘em next year. – JB

39 TV in 3-D
Just as HD channels are launching alongside their SD brethren, soon 3-D channels will be launching in the same fashion, industry execs “in the know” predict. While it doesn’t make sense – financially or logically – for a broadcaster to display all of its programming in 3-D, there are some programs that were made for the technology, such as the USC-Ohio State football game that was demo’d in 3-D at the Cable-Tec Expo’s 3-D TV Pavilion.

Football in 2-D will never be the same. – TP

40 TiVo: Pioneer, oh pioneer
You gotta give it to TiVo – the company saw its demise, evolved and forged a crapload of relationships. There’s Comcast, Cox, RCN, DirecTV, SeaChange, Alticast, Blockbuster, Netflix. … But are those relationships paying off for the commercial-skipping pioneer? Eh.

TiVo’s direct retail sales have been slowing for more than a year. And the company continues to lose subscribers among its service provider customers. The losses have been gradually decreasing – from 135,000 in Q2 ‘08 to 104,000 in Q2 ‘09. At least the company has won the Dish Network battle – so far. – TP

41 Network monitoring
Competition means never wanting to say you’re sorry – service degradation and interruptions are to be avoided at all costs. Monitoring is becoming a systemic endeavor. T&M vendors are evolving some test gear with monitoring capabilities, monitoring specialists like Sigma Designs and IneoQuest remain busy, and video processing specialists such as RGB and Imagine are contributing to the effort. – BS

42 Talk about something amorphous
A national broadband policy looks great until the service providers run the numbers and say, “It ain’t me, babe.” Then the government starts figuring out how to subsidize its way into the space, and things get snarled in bureaucracy. Of late, the talk’s been about a broadband stimulus that will bring high-speed Internet to the most rural users, and there’s actually been some corporate buy-in. Look for some form of wireless to be first out of the gate. – JB

43 SDV back in black
Switched digital video was stalled in the water for a bit this year until the FCC dropped its fines against Time Warner Cable and Cox over the two companies’ use of SDV.

Following on the heels of the FCC decision, Time Warner Cable said it would deploy BigBand’s SDV platform in New York City, Los Angeles and Dallas. In an August earnings call, Comcast hinted that it might take another look at using SDV. – MR

44 OSS/BSS: Aye, there’s the rub
Over the years, as cable operators added new services, they tended to accumulate BSS and OSS systems; the idea was to merge them later. Now that Caller ID on TV has taken off, there’s growing enthusiasm for cross-platform services – which means “later” is coming real soon, if it isn’t here now. OSS/BSS companies warrant they can help their customers migrate safely from silos to integrated systems. And yet companies like Sigma Systems that have clever products to make silos appear integrated, even though they’re not, are thriving. – BS

45 Caller ID on TV tip of converged services
Caller ID on TV seems to be the spearpoint of converged services, with Caller ID on PC following closely behind.

In 2009, Cox, Comcast, Suddenlink, SureWest and Bright House were among the service providers that rolled out either Caller ID on TV or Caller ID on PC, or both in some form. And somewhere, anthropologists have taken note of the new human behavior of looking at the TV when the phone rings. – MR

46 Cable FTTH: Gaining traction
RF over glass and deep fiber gained some momentum in 2009 as steps toward passive optical networks.

PON economics is helping move the technology forward, particularly with commercial customers. It can leverage existing infrastructure and lower construction costs while allowing both residential and business customers to use the same fiber. You can also add video services on the same fiber.

There are some caveats, though. As more dark fiber is consumed, VOD, HDTV, data and VoIP are eating large chunks of the available capacity, making FTTH more difficult. – CK

47 Customer care still king
Competition and the recession have accelerated the cable industry’s near obsession with customer care. It is proving to be the differentiator for communications service providers, whose traditional customers are moving to multiple screens and online for video and broadband services, as well as looking for individual preferences such as statements via e-mail, Web ordering and SMS/texts for alerts.

The recession is also making service providers do more with less, and the strategy for customer service in tough economic times is to retain the customer cost-efficiently and tailor services to the customer’s preferences. – CK

48 MPEG-4: Wireless points the way
MPEG-4 is here. It just might not be as relevant in wireline cable as it is in wireless mobile. There’s a reason for that. Mobile is pushing itself into the video space and needs every bit of compression it can get – and then some – to deliver a product that was never intended to go over wireless airwaves. At best, MPEG-4 is considered reliable. At worst, it’s more revolutionary than evolutionary, so getting into cable is stifled by existing technology that’s already paid for and works. – JB

49 Metered billing: Good luck with that
Take a trip down memory lane and recall the last time you looked at your phone bill to see how many minutes you used. It’s called unlimited long distance for a reason, and that’s all you need to know. Time Warner Cable learned that people don’t want to pay by the minute anymore when it tried to meter and bill Internet usage.

Those days ended when AOL started a monthly all-you-can-eat Internet plan, and no one’s ever going back. – JB

50 Who are you?
Content owners are going to dig in their heels and impede almost every element of anything/anytime/anywhere entertainment if they can’t get a guarantee that the people consuming their content are the ones who are authorized to do so. This has always been the key issue, and it still cuts across almost everything else going on: three screens, convergence, TV Everywhere, home networking. Figure this out and watch how fast things develop. – BS

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