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Cable-Tec Expo ~ It's An On-Demand World

Sat, 10/31/2009 - 8:30pm
Brian Santo, Editor; Mike Robuck, Senior Editor; Traci Patterson, Managing Editor; and Craig Kuhl, Contributing Editor

TV Everywhere, three screens and
addressable advertising dominated Expo.

TV Everywhere was, like the snow, everywhere in Denver during Cable-Tec Expo. Almost every company with any role in providing on-demand content had jumped on the bandwagon, demonstrating how they are enabling TV Everywhere. The ones that weren’t doing TV Everywhere were doing “three screens” – yet another version of on-demand.

CableLabs, during the show, put an exclamation point on the subject by issuing a request for information to nail down the elements for a common technical approach for consumers to have secure online subscription video services from a provider.

Many Cable-Tec exhibitors were also abuzz about visits and calls from programmers – including, they said, HBO – inquiring about means of doing some permutation of TV Everywhere themselves.

Time Warner Cable executive vice president and chief strategy officer Peter Stern said during a CTAM Summit session that the metrics were good for the operator’s TV Everywhere trial, which he said was set to expand from 300 testers to 6,000 consumers.

Comcast’s On Demand Online trial has approximately 10,000 viewers involved, who are averaging about 21 minutes per session, Comcast executive vice president and CTO Tony Werner revealed during a Cable-Tec session. The company subsequently announced commercial rollouts will begin in December.

Cable Hall of Fame induction
Seems like old times at Cable Hall of Fame induction
Between the first blizzard of the year outside and the humble praises to teamwork inside, this year’s Cable Hall of Fame induction ceremony brought back memories of past celebrations. More than a building, The Cable Center connects new generations of cable family members and provides a forum to share experience and best practices, a cable industry standard not typical in other industries. A mix of pioneers and young professionals filled the room. Treated to an upgrade of location, food and beverages from last year’s event, many in the room agreed it was the best induction ceremony in the Hall of Fame’s history. And the honorees, from left: Bernard Shaw, CNN anchor emeritus; Robert Hughes, founder of Prime Cable and chairman of Prime II Investments; Char Beales, president and CEO of CTAM; Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks; Tom Wheeler, managing director of Core Capital Partners and former president of the NCTA; Tom Rutledge, COO of Cablevision; and James Cownie, co-founder and past president of Heritage Communications.

With several cable shows and events now crammed one atop the other into a single week of “Cable Connection,” it was hard for programs not to overlap. Most of the issues that affect the marketers of CTAM are the same as those the technologists of SCTE must address. Sessions at CTAM led logically into sessions at both Expo and the Annual NAMIC Conference – when they weren’t in outright scheduling conflict.

At the CTAM session “Multi-Screen Access: Challenges & Opportunities,” TWC’s Stern said, “I think TV Everywhere is important, but let’s not lose sight of what is just as important, if not more important, and that’s the TV screen.”

Cable needs to keep its focus on technologies and services such as linear TV, expanded VOD, Start Over, Look Back and a new initiative called On Channel On Demand, which Stern explained “takes the VOD experience and puts it on programmers’ channels so we build brand and build loyalty.”

Stern said the average viewer watches four to five hours of TV a day, but spends only two to six minutes watching Internet videos.

“If I were allocating my time, I would put my time against the problems that matter to customers, and 80 percent of the online viewership is [online] because customers can’t find what they want on TV,” Stern said. “So we should put 80 percent of our efforts into delivering people Start Over so they don’t have to plan ahead and so we don’t have to mitigate DVR, Look Back so they can catch up on shows that they’ve missed.

“If we put our effort there, then with initiatives like TV Everywhere, we’ll be in the position to make it additive and deliver the best possible experience to customers as opposed to focusing on the next shiny object.”

Stern and Matt Bond, Comcast’s executive vice president of content acquisition, said the cable industry needs to help its customers easily find the content they want across the various mediums.

“The customer is who we should be focusing on,” said Andy Heller, vice chairman of Turner Broadcasting System. “The concept behind TV Everywhere is to reward paying customers by giving them better access to our content on multiple screens, in a fashion that is consistent to the way they experience television. We’re really trying to give them a linear television experience, a television VOD experience, and then move to a new platform to give them a broadband VOD experience where they’re going to see the same kind of content that they see on the TV screen in a format where they can view it when they want it, and on the platform that they want it.”

Coming from the other side of the TV Everywhere equation was Hulu CEO Jason Kilar, who was asked what lessons he has learned in the year and a half that Hulu has been serving videos over the Internet.

“The most important lesson is to be very, very focused on: a) your mission, and b) your culture,” he said. Before Hulu employees wrote a single line of code, the company defined its customers as content owners, users and advertisers. “Our daily struggle is about balancing the needs of those three customers,” Kilar added.

Kilar said that roughly 40 percent of the videos viewed on Hulu’s Web site are short-form programming that isn’t available in living rooms, while 50 percent hasn’t been available on the TV in the past year.

Bob Miron, this year’s winner of CTAM’s Grand Tam award and chairman of Advance/Newhouse Communications, cautioned that customer service is still king. Miron, who received his award and spoke prior to a panel session at the CTAM Summit, said that all of the various technologies can’t paper over customers’ concerns.

CTOs AT CTAM: ON-DEMAND DRIVING CABLE
The CTAM general session “Cable’s Consumer Product Agenda” brought together Comcast’s Werner, Bright House Networks President Nomi Bergman, Fox National Cable Networks President Rich Battista and Time Warner Cable executive vice president and CTO Mike LaJoie, who all agreed that on-demand is one of the major drivers of the industry today. On-demand plays out in many ways, not only in VOD as we traditionally think of it, but also in DVRs, Start Over, TV Everywhere and other initiatives.

On-demand is at a tipping point, Werner noted. Two-thirds of the time, he said, Comcast’s customers are accessing their DVRs or on-demand content. Another element of on-demand is advanced advertising – many of the mechanisms are similar when not identical.

Battista insisted it was an open question whether cable operators have the technology to support advanced, measurable and targeted advertising.

LaJoie insisted that cable has been able to do ad insertion in VOD for a long time. The biggest hurdles, he said later in the panel, are the business issues – securing the rights from programmers. He was seconded by Werner and Bergman.

Battista reiterated that programmers will remain wary of on-demand until operators can prevent viewers from fast-forwarding through commercials, and until they enable dynamic ad insertion, with targeted ads, in a process that can be measured the way ads on Hulu can be targeted and measured.

The panelists also stressed the importance of the user interface, citing Apple’s iPod and Hulu/Fancast as prime examples of how a simple, easy-to-use interface is an essential element to a successful product. One of the challenges there, said Bergman, is that while UI’s are becoming easier to use, “in the back end, everything is getting more complex.”

The issues of navigation and back office support would be revisited several times during the conference.

ENOUGH ALREADY
Panelists at Expo’s opening general session – “Enough Already!” – explained that navigating the flood of content expected to be delivered over multiple devices, such as mobile gadgets and computers, is part of a service provider’s mandate, with IP, bandwidth, time to market, DOCSIS 3.0, scaling, and the migration from IPv4 to IPv6 each assuming a major role.

“We’re doing IP because we want to deliver content, and not just video, but mobile and video over IP,” said Dermot O’Carroll, senior vice president of engineering and network operations for Rogers Cable Communications.

Enough Already
Expo’s opening general session – “Enough Already!” – was moderated by independent technology analyst Leslie Ellis (center) and featured panelists Dermot O’Carroll (left), senior vice president of engineering and network operations at Rogers; Paul Liao (left center), president and CEO of CableLabs; Marwan Fawaz (right center), executive vice president and CTO of Charter; and Pragash Pillai (right), vice president of engineering and technology at Bresnan Communications.

There’s work to be done, however, with VoIP, admitted Paul Liao, president and CEO of CableLabs. “There are so many people working on innovations on a global scale to benefit our networks. That’s the most important part of IP.”

Just as important, panelists concurred, is the migration of IPv4 to IPv6.

“It’s a key initiative and isn’t trivial. We must look at the end-to-end network all the way to the CPE. Core distribution will be ready by 2011. We must be ready to support IPv6,” said Marwan Fawaz, executive vice president and CTO at Charter Communications.

O’Carroll agreed: “A lot of work has been done, but the future is challenging with IPv4 to IPv6. The big problem is connecting them in the home.”

Once the connections are made and content is delivered via multiple platforms, there will be another concern, which the panelists raised: navigating through the sea of content.

“The consumer doesn’t care how content is transported, but how they navigate through all of the IP content,” said Pragash Pillai, vice president of engineering and technology for Bresnan Communications.

That’s where the user interface enters the picture. Liao said: “The heart of the cable is really a retailer of content who sells to consumers. So a user interface is needed to purchase content. Like a storefront.”

It’s a storefront in need of bandwidth, particularly with HD, 3-D, faster broadband speeds and high expectations from the SMB market. “As video channels move to HD, the challenge is bandwidth,” O’Carroll said.

DOCSIS 3.0 is helping, Pillai noted. Panelists agreed that they need to get D3 fired up in a hurry, because time to market is crucial.

Concluded Fawaz: “IP and DOCSIS have advantages over legacy systems. But time to market is very challenging. It’s weeks, not months.”

Despite the lack of a functioning business model and a wide array of technical, navigational and connection issues, the drive to make content available across multiple platforms is accelerating.

“People want to enjoy content, but it’s locked up and needs to be unlocked. There’s lots of talk about a business model, or is there one, and is video everywhere an opportunity?” said Jim Brandt, director of TV/video for Synacor, during the “Video Everywhere” Expo workshop.

He argued that there is indeed opportunity, albeit with some pressing issues. Discussing online video viewing, Brandt said: “It adds value to the subscription, reduces churn and protects subscriber revenues. There’s promise for the value proposition and business model.”

All of this content is also hard to find – a no-no if operators want to sell it.

“Consumers are forced to pick through the silo concept, and it limits their ability to pay for content and take advantage of extra features with higher-end set-top boxes. The result is an interface that’s stagnant. You can’t add rich graphics, and we’re talking 150,000 titles. Even high-end boxes can’t handle that,” said Jeremy Edmonds, director of product management for ActiveVideo Networks.

BACKING UP THE BACK OFFICE
The subject of the back office came up again in the “Engineering the Extensible Network” Expo session. Tandberg Television vice president of application software strategy Michael Adams spoke about cable operators taking advantage of back office systems that they already have deployed when empowering new services and devices across three screens, instead of creating a separate silo for wireless services and applications.

Adams said cable operators already know their customers’ preferences from their set-top boxes and phone service. By creating “follow functions” for a TV Everywhere-type service, they can create stickiness for their subscribers, while also providing them with a better user experience.

Case in point: TandbergTV’s OpenStream Digital Services platform has new device awareness abilities that allow operators to leverage their existing on-demand investment to enable multi-platform TV over IP.

The platform is enabled by OpenStream’s awareness of a device’s capabilities concerning access network, video format and client functionality, allowing it to tailor the user experience and video streaming for each device in use. For example, Adams said that on an iPhone, either 3G or Wi-Fi could be used, but it would adapt to whatever provided the best experience for the user. Generally speaking, Adams said Wi-Fi provided a better user experience.

By using GPS, the platform can also locate where a subscriber is using a mobile device, such as an iPhone, and target local ads to that area.

TandbergTV’s back office system could also be used to make sure that subscribers aren’t abusing their TV Everywhere passwords and user names by posting them on Facebook or passing them along to friends, Adams said.

Conventional wisdom says that business services are low-hanging fruit. Well, yes, if all you have to do is run some cable or fiber. But that’s not all you have to do. Extending residential OSS systems to the complex and quality-conscious business market is a work in progress, but the final result may well be worth the effort, said workshop speakers at Expo’s “Expanding Residential OSS Systems to Support Business Services.”

“There are as many as 115 model entities in a commercial voice system, like multiple addresses, company profiles, custom features, dial plans, group voicemail and more. And order management for commercial voice has become more of a challenge. It’s complex,” said Rick Mallon, vice president of product management for Sigma Systems.

Billing, he continued, isn’t much easier. “With a traditional billing system, we found voice overwhelming the system, so there’s a need for back office order management screens and the ability to copy or duplicate addresses. Customer administration is important, too, so a billing ‘trigger’ is needed to lessen the burden on the call center.”

Yet despite some ongoing issues, more commercial services are coming, Mallon said. “Business customers are looking for more from service providers, like remote data backup, business continuity and managed security service.”

They’re also raising the bar for quality, according to Michael Pritz, OPR consulting practice manager for JDSU.

“Enterprises are demanding high levels of service quality from operators and carriers. But how do you provide a level of assurance?” Pritz asked.

Monitoring the network’s performance is one way, he noted, and more operators are deploying assurance solutions to meet the stringent requirements of today’s commercial markets.

WI-FI AND CABLE
Speaking of business services, growth in the SMB market for Wi-Fi is getting the attention of service providers, with the hospitality and larger enterprise markets joining the growth curve.

Husnain Bajwa of BelAir Networks, speaking at the “Premises-Based Business Services” Expo workshop, said: “We’re seeing deployment of service provider Wi-Fi in hot zones (urban facilities with DOCSIS plant) and venues (on-premise indoor and outdoor). But it’s a very fragmented space. There’s an uptick in sports arenas and with large enterprises, and mass transit is advancing beyond most people’s expectations.”

He cited three key elements to the Wi-Fi business service model: residential customer stickiness, data offloading from cellular networks and incremental revenue.

There are some challenges, he admitted. “There’s potential for significant congestion at key points, and there’s a need for secure WLAN for enterprise employees. But there’s a clear business case being formed for Wi-Fi service, and MSOs have a unique opportunity.”

There’s opportunity in the hospitality sector, as well, said Jeff Huppertz, president and CEO of Drake.

“Free-to-guest is where it’s at, and cable has an opportunity with HD. But it hasn’t developed the on-demand system in hotels, where there are 5 million hotel rooms.”

He admitted to challenges with VOD in the hospitality space, as well. “Release windows are different for movies, and so is the pricing per movie. And hotels want their own branding with no set-top boxes. Billing is also an issue.”

Both speakers agreed that the Wi-Fi models for residential, enterprise and hospitality are forming.

2009 Cable-Tec Expo exhibit hall ribbon cutting
The SCTE’s newly elected board chairman Bob Foote, SCTE President and CEO Mark Dzuban, and Comcast executive vice president of national engineering and technical operations John Schanz (left, middle and right, holding scissors) cut the ribbon to officially open the 2009 Cable-Tec Expo exhibit hall. On the far left, Arris' Randy Townsend, Expo's exhibit subcommittee chairman.

SOA, IPDR
Service-oriented architecture (SOA) and Internet Protocol Detail Record (IPDR) were front-and-center issues discussed at the “Moving up the Value Chain of OSS/BSS” workshop at Expo.

Three types of SOA services – basic, composed and process – are the key components to SOA and offer a variety of business opportunities, said Ed Heffernan, an architect at Rogers Cable.

But SOA’s greatest advantage, he pointed out, is its reusability. “Reuse is SOA’s biggest benefit, and if a provider wants to migrate to DOCSIS or PON, the only change would be in the technology, not the architecture.”

An emerging management protocol, IPDR, is also getting attention, Heffernan noted.

“When you think of IPDR, you think of service definitions or templates. They reduce capital expense and operations expense. But deploying IPDR isn’t simple. There are integration problems,” Heffernan said.

IPDR isn’t without its own challenges. “The OSS/BSS realm poses a specific set of problems. No one-size-fits-all architectures to solve all network management integration problems,” he added.

Nonetheless, Heffernan was optimistic about SOA making a difference, with its beneficiaries being network operators, customer operations, capacity planning, IT business intelligence and network performance.

CALM DOWN
And then there are the wild fluctuations of audio in commercials, an aggravation for consumers for decades and now an issue that Congress proposes to solve with the Commercial Advertisement Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM.

Dave Higgins, vice president of quality assurance for the Comcast Media Center, said: “We’ve struggled with this issue. There are ad agencies and the creative community trying to create louder commercials, and customers don’t like it.

The solution, Higgins suggested, is through the creation of work groups that would include ad agencies, broadcasters, MSOs, and a coordination of measurement and adjustments.

Santhana Krishnamachari, vice president of engineering for digital video systems at Arris, agreed. “The rule of thumb is the better quality that goes in, the better it will come out.”

NAMIC’s general session
We have to talk: Programmers and technology vendors sharing the dais at NAMIC’s general session wrestled with how the entire entertainment industry is being upset by viewers who are demanding to get their content whenever and wherever they want it, and too often figuring out ways to do it on their own. The common challenge for service providers and programmers is how to provide the content that viewers want on their TVs, PCs and mobile handhelds, and how to make money doing it. From left: Moderator and CED Editor Brian Santo; Albert Cheng, executive vice president of digital media at Disney-ABC Television Group; Invision.TV founder and CEO Derrick Frost; Mark Garner, senior vice president of distribution, marketing and business development at A&E Television Networks; Jamie Howard, president and CEO of Imagine Communications; and SeaChange International’s chief strategy officer Yvette Kanouff.

ADVANCED ADVERTISING STARTS TO GEL
The “Advanced Advertising – Making it a Reality” session was a soup-to-nuts look at the status of advanced advertising in terms of using it for the on-demand and linear platforms, as well as at the types of interfaces and specifications that are needed to make it all work.

Comcast’s Walt Michel, executive director of technology in the office of the CTO, pinch hit on the panel for CableLabs’ Frank Sandoval, who was snowbound. Michel went over Stewardship and Fulfillment Interfaces (SaFI) while using Sandoval’s presentation.

“SaFI is really meant to be an enabling set of interfaces that sit between the MSOs and the trunk systems, or Canoe and other external third parties that want to conduct business with one or more MSOs,” Michel said. “It really enables accessibility to our platforms and our capabilities, things like ETV and tru2way.”

Michel said Canoe Ventures, the national advertising JV that was funded by the top-six MSOs in the nation, would be the first major user of the SaFI interfaces. The interfaces also work in conjunction with other standards and specifications, such as CableLabs’ VOD Metadata.

Adam Tom, co-founder and executive vice president of RGB Networks, went over the results of a trial from an interop held at CableLabs in June that relied on SCTE standards 35 and 130. Using both of the standards, Tom showed how overlays were applied in on-demand assets pre-roll, mid-roll and post-roll.

Tom said the overlays could also be used for EAS messaging in on-demand, as well as for targeting by geography or demographics, or down to specific viewers. Presenting with Tom was Bruce Dilger, vice president of R&D and chief architect of advanced advertising systems at OpenTV.

“All of this is in terms of fulfillment of local advertising opportunities,” Dilger said. “[It’s] the ability to insert ads locally at an MSO to take advantage of the advertising opportunities that are generally presented by a cable network or some other program provider.”

Dilger gave the example of a baseball game that gets rained out. Under the current system, which he said has been in place for 30 years, the same ads would run during the Three Stooges movie instead. With the new standards, rich data can be placed in packets based on the actual programming that is running, which would include additional advertising opportunities if a baseball game went into extra innings.

Michel pointed to upcoming product announcements from Canoe Ventures, which reportedly will include the launch of an EBIF product sometime this year.

Out in front: The 2009 Pacesetters

More than a half-dozen engineers who are pushing cable’s technological limits were the recipients of Pacesetter Awards. The honorees hailed from Bresnan Communications, Bright House Networks, Comcast and Time Warner Cable.

CED’s Sixth Annual Pacesetter Awards were presented at a special reception at the recent Cable-Tec Expo.

2009 Pacesetter Award Winner: Brett Maas
Brett Maas (left), commercial sales director at Bresnan Communications, was the winner of the 2009 Pacesetter Award for Converged Services. Presenting were Matthew Byrd (center), senior systems engineer for Metaswitch – the sponsor of the award – and Brian Santo (right), Editor of CED.

Scott Shelley, regional vice president of engineering for Comcast Cable’s Beltway Region, received the Pacesetter Award for Advanced Architectures, which was presented by Aurora Networks CEO Guy Sucharczuk. Shelley was commended for setting up Broadband Nation and the entire Washington Convention Center with communications services for The Cable Show earlier this year. In receiving his award, Shelley explained how the convention center was so pleased with the RF over glass installation, they insisted on keeping it.

The Pacesetter for Business & Mobile Backhaul Services was presented by Hitachi Communication Technologies America President and CEO Toru Takesue, who introduced recipient John Dickinson, senior director of network architecture and strategy at Bright House Networks. Takesue cited Dickinson for his pioneering work building mobile backhaul and business services networks using EPON access equipment. Hitachi said Bright House has built the largest EPON-based business and cellular backhaul network in the U.S.

The Pacesetter for Converged Services was bestowed on Brett Maas, commercial sales director at Bresnan Communications. Matthew Byrd from award sponsor Metaswitch noted that Bresnan is not only developing among the most comprehensive converged business product portfolios in the cable industry, but it developed and launched this product at least six months ahead of schedule.

Louis Williamson, fellow engineer at Time Warner Cable, was awarded the Pacesetter for Digital Video. Williamson was cited by award sponsor Cisco for being instrumental in the delivery and development of technologies and services such as SDV, and most recently the transition to next-generation video services at TWC. As a result of his efforts, he was recently promoted to fellow engineer – the first, and so far only, person with this title at TWC.

Comcast’s senior vice president of IP communications and services, Franklyn Athias, was the recipient of the Pacesetter Award for Residential SIP/VoIP. Camiant vice president of business development Randy Fuller introduced Athias, who is working to drive the development and delivery of next-generation voice architecture based on the PacketCable 2.0 specification.

A team of engineers from Bright House Networks’ Central Florida Division shared the Pacesetter for Test & Measurement. Bright House had a project to install new DOCSIS services. In presenting the award, VeEx President and CEO Cyrille Morelle observed that the operator ultimately passed 100 percent of test results, passing required thresholds, and achieved 100 percent customer satisfaction relying on VeEx T&M equipment. Recipients included John Pietri, Michael Hawthorne, Mark Clark and Jeff Anderson, working under the direction of John Hofma.

The Pacesetters recognize individuals from cable and other broadband service providers who have taken leading positions or innovative first steps with advanced services, applications and technologies.

 

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