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XOD Capsule - December 20, 2005

Mon, 12/19/2005 - 7:00pm

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December 20, 2005

Jeff BaumgartnerHitting a moving target
Back when he ran the day-to-day at Starz, John Sie first would contend that cable operators could use his range of themed digital movie multiplexes to siphon money from video stores with a "virtual" video store of their own.

The problem with this position, of course, is that these channels are all linear. Viewers could only select the channel they wanted to watch, not the program. Whatever particular show being broadcast on a particular time was the only "choice" available to them.

Sie changed his tune with the advent of video-on-demand and subscription VOD, in particular. Suddenly, that "choice" transcended not only movie genres, but movie titles, as well. The technology available and Sie's vision for cable's virtual video store finally converged, prompting Sie to sell the idea that operators stood to tap into a $6 billion annual revenue stream enjoyed by the video stores. Operators don't disclose VOD revenues (yet), so it's hard to say how much of that $6 billion is flowing into cable's coffers.

But, according to a study of almost 500 Starz On Demand customers this fall, 70 percent of them no longer rent of buy DVDs from local retailers. Additionally, 72 percent of them reported renting fewer DVDs, and 76 percent said they were "more satisfied" with their cable company.

Now, we'll have to see how Sie's other predictions hold up to the test of time. In April 2004, you might remember, Sie predicted that movies would someday premiere regularly on cable and satellite, rather than in theatres, sometime in the next 10 years.

Although his thoughts about digital multiplexes were on the right track but missed the mark, he is apparently right on target with SVOD. Given that track record, I'm not going to bet against him.

—Jeff Baumgartner, Editor, CED magazine and xOD Capsule

Editor's note: The next edition of xOD Capsule will appear on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2006.
The staff of CED wishes you a joyous holiday and a Happy New Year.


ARRIS, server vendors mark 'migration path' to DOCSIS 3.0
Taking a step toward the promise of DOCSIS 3.0, ARRIS has integrated its downstream-heavy Keystone D5 DMTS platform with a handful of video server vendors.

The D5, a product that supports 48 QAM channels, has been integrated with servers from Broadbus Technologies, C-COR Inc., Concurrent Computer Corp., and Kasenna Inc.. Still absent from this list is market leader SeaChange International.

Arris' downstream-heavy D5ARRIS notes that the integration underscores the D5's ability to support MPEG2-TS digital video delivery, and that it serves as a migratory path to the modular-cable modem termination system (M-CMTS), a key component to the forthcoming DOCSIS 3.0 specification, which will use channel bonding techniques to produce speeds in excess of 100 Mbps.

A key benefit of the M-CMTS will be its ability to share edge QAM resources for video-on-demand and DOCSIS-based services and applications.

Today, operators deliver VOD via edge QAM devices that translate video over IP or ASI (in the case of older systems) to RF. The traditional cable modem termination system (CMTS), meanwhile, translates digital data into RF. M-CMTS technology in the works today aims to give operators one device that can flexibly mix the two together in a much more efficient manner. ARRIS' DMTS is designed to handle traditional MPEG and emerging IP transport technologies.

ARRIS introduced plans for the D5 last year. "We really saw the beginnings of the downstream heavy revolution before [the concept] went to CableLabs" as the M-CMTS, noted ARRIS Senior Director of Product Management Mike Caldwell. "We merged our roadmap with theirs." CableLabs has yet to issue the DOCSIS 3.0 spec, but ARRIS expects to begin shipping an "M-CMTS-complaint" version of the D5 in Q1 2006. But the vendor is confident that its pre-3.0 version will be pretty close to the final spec.

Two important components of the box - the DOCSIS Timing Interface and DOCSIS RFI spec (used for channel bonding) - are stable enough now for ARRIS to move ahead, Caldwell said. The D5 also supports Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs), so any required changes should be able to be made in software, he added.

ARRIS is also pressing ahead because some cable partners in Europe and Asia, especially those that use open DVB conditional access platforms, are looking at ways to boost speeds as soon as possible.

"Some operators are pushing us to get M-CMTS-complaint products ready soon," Caldwell said. "We're in pretty good shape in the DVB world."

There's also word that CableLabs is starting to take a look at a device called the ICMTS ("I" is for "integrated"), which would break down the elements of a traditional CMTS into discreet elements - downstream and upstream physical layers, the MAC and network interfacing, and timing. It's seen as an interim step toward the modular CMTS.

Syncing up with ETV
Enhanced television, or ETV, is a technology that is expected to become an important part of cable's offerings of the future. A group of expert panelists recently covered that subject during CED's Cable Television & Broadband Expo, a "virtual" trade show that took place earlier this month entirely on the Web.

First off, what is ETV? As a subset of interactive television (iTV), it generally refers to applications (delivered via the set-top or a separate PC) that are directly associated and essentially "synced" with the video that's being broadcast. That could include things such as real-time voting and polling alongside a show like American Idol.

John CallahanETV, explained John Callahan, senior vice president, advanced technology group at Time Warner Cable, is a different animal than video-on-demand, news tickers sports tickers and games that are not linked to a particular program.

The cable industry started to take a close look at ETV about 18 months ago. One requirement of success, Callahan noted, was that ETV needed a common footprint for U.S. programs. That would mean that the programming signal and associated ETV applications and "triggers" would work the same on, for example, a system operated by Comcast, Time Warner Cable, or Cox Communications.

"We want to maintain that national footprint, that ubiquity of coverage," Callahan said.

To that end, ETV is in the process of being tied to OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a middleware specified by CableLabs. There is also work being done to ensure that cable ETV is backwards compatible with non-OCAP set-tops. CableLabs is breaking down the ETV system into three components: authoring tools for programmers, transmission systems for operators, and Java-based "user agents" that render the text and accept the ETV signaling at the set-top layer.

Linked to that, there's also lots of attention being paid to the ETV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), which is an application format that the user agent interprets.

CableLabs released the ETV specs in early 2005, and the plan (as of December) was to issue operational guidelines by the end of 2005 or early 2006, said Frank Sandoval, director of OCAP specifications and advanced platforms & services at CableLabs.

He said the first ETV interop, in August 2005, was "extremely successful." It featured eight applications, one application verifier, two stream agents, and three user agents.

Still, ETV will have plenty of technical and operational challenges to overcome, starting with the classic "Super Bowl scenario." Because of its two-way nature, the return channel needs special attention, especially if, for example, millions of users concurrently cast votes for American Idol, explained Craig Smithpeters, the manager of advanced technology and standards at Cox Communications.

"How do we balance that load?" he asked, noting that a working group has been established to solve this particular issue.

Integration presents yet another challenge. "It's probably the biggest one," Smithpeters said. Ideally, Cox would like to leverage OCAP or a subset such as OnRamp to OCAP.

OCAP "is the easiest to support long term, but the slowest option today," he added.

Another challenge involves the DVR. If a viewer is watching a recorded program, how does the ETV application remain relevant to that show? In the U.S., most viewers today access ETV applications via a two-screen PC-TV environment, which is where ABC has already found plenty of success.

Rick MandlerABC debuted ETV alongside its coverage of the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, and today offers enhancements to a raft of regular programs and specials, including The Academy Awards, All My Children, the Indianapolis 500, Alias, and Sunday and Monday Night Football. ABC grew attached to ETV because the majority of TV viewing is still patterned with linear television. "You fish where the fish are," said Rick Mandler, vice president & general manager of Walt Disney Internet Group & ABC's Enhanced TV.

Time Warner, meanwhile, has launched a several out-of-band, scheduled polling and voting applications that are not considered true ETV. The MSO has also teamed with GoldPocket and GSN in Hawaii, however, for some real ETV work.

Editor's note: This and all other sessions of the trade show are archived at www.cableandbroadbandexpo.com.

SeaChange middlewareTelewest puts SeaChange set-top software into overdrive
U.K. operator Telewest has extended its software partnership with SeaChange International, opting to power its advanced HD-DVR set-top platform with SeaChange's "TV Navigator" middleware platform. As a foil to BSkyB, the box features DVR capable of storing up to 80 hours of standard-definition programming and access to the traditional interactive program guide and video-on-demand. Similar to Time Warner Cable's "Start Over" service, the TVDrive box and middleware also enable customers to save a program from the beginning after it is already in progress.

For SeaChange, the extension with Telewest will goose its decision to get into the set-top middleware game earlier this year and buy the international assets of Liberate Technologies for $23.5. In January, Comcast Corp. and Cox Communications purchased the majority of Liberate for $82 million.

Verizon expands SeaChange VOD commitment
SeaChange International confirmed last week that it will supply the underlying VOD servers and software for Verizon's rollout of FiOS TV.

In addition to Verizon's initial launch in Keller, Texas, the telco is also using SeaChange gear in Dallas-Fort Worth; Herndon, Va.; and Temple Terrace, Fla.

The telco is also leveraging SeaChange's IP Video System to automate VOD down to Motorola -set-tops. Verizon, however, is not delivering a full IPTV service yet, but instead using an RF-based video overlay that looks much like a traditional cable HFC architecture.

Mobile TV set for explosive growth
With just 1.2 million U.S. consumers out there who watch video on their mobile phones, the market remains mired in the early adopter stage. However, it's on a path to mass adoption, according to a forecast from eMarketer, which sees that number rising to 15 million by 2009. About 3 million U.S. consumers will access video via mobile phones by the end of 2006, the firm said.

"Mobile video will present some of the most compelling mobile entertainment marketing opportunities," said Senior Analyst Debra Aho Williamson. "Just as online video advertising has taken off because of the way it blends video's high brand engagement with the Internet's interactive, tracking and targeting capabilities, so too will marketers be drawn to mobile video advertising."

Just last week, Cingular obtained the rights to offer clips from HBO, and MTV Networks struck a similar agreement with Amp'd Mobile.

But there's still a big between offering entertaining content via the phone, and actually getting consumers to use it.

According to data culled this fall by M:Metrics, fewer than 10 percent of U.S. mobile customers had used their phone's browser to obtain news, send a photo or purchase a ringtone. Moreover, fewer than 5 percent had purchased electronic wallpaper, a screen saver or had downloaded a mobile game.

"Do U.S. consumers want to be entertained by their mobile phone? That's the billion-dollar question," Williamson said.


We are making changes and additions (including international deployments) to our
Web-based "living" deployment chart. If you have a new deployment to report for the VOD Scorecard and the Web-based deployment chart, please contact CED Editor Jeff Baumgartner.

Recent Deployments
Service operator
Market
Video server vendor
VOD backoffice supplier
Movie-on-demand aggregator
Asset delivery/ management providers
Bresnan Communications
Bozeman, Mont.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Canon City, Colo.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Casper, Wyo.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Delta, Colo.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Durango, Colo.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Montrose, Colo.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Charter Communications
Alcoa, Tenn.
Arroyo
C-COR
TVN
TVN
Alahambra, Pasadena / Montery Park / West Covina, Calif.
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN, Ascent Media
Asheville, N.C.*
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Duluth / Gwinnett County, Ga.*
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Greenville / Spartanburg, S.C.*
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Hickory, N.C.*
C-COR
C-COR
TVN
TVN, Ascent Media
Madison, Wis.*
Kasenna
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Newnan / La Grange, Ga.
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Steven’s Point / Wausau, Wis.
Kasenna
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Stockbridge, Ga.
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
Thibodaux, La.
Broadbus
Tandberg
TVN
TVN
* VOD is not new to market, but operator has changed VOD server and/or backoffice providers.
 

CED December 2005
December 2005
Issue Contents »

Company: Digeo Inc.
Headquarters: Kirkland, Wash.
URL: www.digeo.com
CEO: Mike Fidler

Claim to fame: Media center hardware and software, including a navigation, video-on-demand and multi-room digital video recorder applications. At last check, the company's "Moxi" platform has been deployed in 250,000 cable homes.

Recent news of note: Comporium recently completed an IP-based multi-room DVR test with Digeo using the vendor's existing hardware outfitted with some new software code. Using the Ethernet port of the Digeo box, the pilot tested the box over DSL and fiber-to-the-home architectures.

Company: LodgeNet
Headquarters: Sioux Falls, S.D.
URL: www.lodgenet.com
CEO: Scott Petersen

Company claim to fame: Partners with hotels to deliver interactive television services, including games, guest applications (billing, surveys, etc.), and VOD. In all, the company provides services to more than 6,000 hotel properties.

Recent news of note: Struck a deal with Fibenur to distribute service to hotels in Argentina and Uruguay. Internationally, LodgeNet also has footholds in the Bahamas, Brazil, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Japan, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela.

Consumer Electronics Show
Jan. 5-8, 2006
Las Vegas, Nev.
More information:
www.cesweb.org

SCTE Conference on
Emerging Technologies

Jan.10-12, 2006
Tampa, Fla.
More information:
http://et.scte.org

NCTA National Show
April 9-11, 2006
Atlanta, Ga.
More information:
www.thenationalshow.com

SCTE Cable-Tec Expo
June 20-23, 2006
Denver, Colo.
More information:
www.scte.org



 
Copyright © 2005 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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