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xOD Capsule Newsletter - January 31, 2006

Tue, 01/31/2006 - 8:34am

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January 31, 2006


Jeff Baumgartner Changing channels...from anywhere
Sling Media made its grand entrance at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show with a brick-looking box that promised to give consumers the ability to watch programming being piped to their personal televisions while they're on the road.

As a proud owner of this device, I'd have to say: Mission Accomplished. So far, it has worked pretty much as advertised. Because "place-shifting" is a concept that cable operators will (hopefully) embark on themselves, here's my review of this early mover application.

For starters, the set-up was fairly easy. In my case, I connected the Slingbox to an old Philips-made TiVo box in the bedroom, and hooked the Slingbox to my home network via a HomePlug adapter.

Consumers who don't know their way around a router, which is required, could have some problems with any requisite port forwarding. But Sling's software provides a helpful wizard to get people through this typically manual process.

In my case, the device also required an upgrade to the firmware and the client software, which added another 30 minutes to the installation process. With that included, it took me about an hour to get my Slingbox up and running. Not bad, but I wouldn't trust my parents to try to install this thing. But let's be honest -- this device is not really targeted to the luddite crowd.

The good news: It worked the first time I tried in on my home network and the first time I launched it from a remote location. So it gets high marks there. However, there were other times when I couldn't connect through firewalls, so it can be hit and miss when one is on the road.

As expected, there can be sizable latency (up to four seconds) when changing channels. On one trip, I couldn't change channels at all, which pretty much defeated the purpose.

The picture and audio quality was better than I expected. Over my home network, the stream hummed along at better than 1 Mbps consistently. At work, I easily get video at 250 kbps to 350 kbps, so it looks decent on a small window, but pixilates some when the screen size is increased.

Another plus: Because it taps the "analog hole," the Slingbox lets me watch every channel on the lineup, including the HBOs and Showtimes, and those niche offerings at the high end of the digital tier. I can also access my TiVo recordings.

But it also sucks up plenty of bandwidth, which is why operators are interested in how often such an application is actually used. In my case, I tend to use it sparingly, maybe two or three times a week—and even so, I use it more often at home when I'm plugging away on my PC so I'm glad there isn't a monthly subscription fee attached to the service. But it also offers some peace of mind. Because the Slingbox is hooked into my DVR, it's simple to set recordings remotely.

Despite what the Slingbox does or doesn't do well, I did learn one thing: Cable operators should be pursuing this kind of a service, either on their own or in partnership. It's a great way to differentiate on DBS (or not, since EchoStar just invested in Sling Media), plus it's an application that logically bundles together the value of digital video and high-speed data services.

Time Warner Cable has already taken some steps forward in this area via an IPTV trial in San Diego that distributes the expanded basic tier, but does not offer premium services such as HBO. Historically, and for good reason, cable operators have been careful to protect the rights of studios and other content holders. But new digital rights management (DRM) techniques, including the developing OpenCable Unidirectional Receiver (OCUR), should open some new "place-shifting" doors for cable operators…and keep the networks happy.

—Jeff Baumgartner, Editor in Chief, CED magazine and xOD Capsule


ChoiceStream puts personalized VOD in sight
Considering the number of titles available today via traditional cable-delivered video-on-demand as well as fare that's delivered via the Internet, it's a small wonder that anyone is able to find what they are looking for without spending half the evening drilling through menus, sometimes fruitlessly.

Helping users search for what they are looking for is one thing, but pushing ideas to them based on personal preferences is quite another. Although services such as TiVo Inc., Netflix and Amazon.com have helped to set the bar in this area, not much has been done (yet) in this area when it comes to cable VOD, which, depending on the operator, offers northward of 2,000 hours of on-demand content.

ChoiceStream's 
platform

Although Google appears poised to help operators do something about this shortcoming, another company, ChoiceStream, hopes to grab a foothold in that sector as well.

ChoiceStream, which is supplying recommendation engines for the recently launched Vongo service from Starz Entertainment Group, aims to take the personalization process a step further by enlisting both passive and active data from users.

Rather than taking a "collaborative filtering" approach such as Amazon's, ChoiceStream attempts to look at the patterns in which consumers interact with specific items and deliver recommendations to each user, explained company Vice President of Business Development Daren Gill.

On the automated side of the equation, the system peers into content domains and develops attributes designed to go beyond more simple ones such as genres. Instead of "comedy," the platform assigns more than 20 different ways to define the comedy, for example. In this aspect, the company develops "training sets" from several sources, including the Internet Movie Database, Tribune Media (data for television shows), and AMG.

On the more active "elicitation" side, ChoiceStream collects more active data supplied by users, such as personal ratings and purchase histories.

In addition to Vongo, ChoiceStream also powers personalization for Blockbuster.com and the Yahoo! "My Movies" service.

So far, ChoiceStream has focused solely on the PC. It's plans, however, also include powering services delivered by cable operators and DBS operators.

"We've been active in the [cable] space lately," Gill said. "The idea is that we could be delivering the experience one-to-one the Web, and use that profile to deliver personalization on the set-top. Right now, we're talking about how the two will be driven by one profile."

The company is also taking a closer look at how the technical aspects of it would work at the set-top level, determining, for example, how to optimize the cache on a set-top with a digital video recorder versus what has to be processed on the network server.

Gill said expectations are that ChoiceStream could conduct a cable trial before the first half of 2006.

Gemstar to help guide Cox IPG plans
Gemstar-TV Guide International and Cox Communications have forged a long-term deal that will include the "future deployment" of Gemstar's interactive program guide (IPG). Financial terms were not disclosed.

A Cox spokesman said the MSO expects to introduce Gemstar's IPG products sometime in early 2007, with expectations that it will replace its existing digital set-top navigation platforms. Presently, Cox uses IPGs from Scientific-Atlanta and Aptiv Digital, a company that recently spun off from its former parent company, Pioneer. The MSO noted that it will continue working with its existing IPG vendors this year, and that work will involve some new projects.

"We see ourselves involved with Cox for the foreseeable future," said Aptiv President & CEO Neil Jones. His company, which supplies the IPG for all of Cox's Motorola sites, has a multi-year deal of its own with the MSO.

Cox said the decision to work with Gemstar was linked to the vendor's work with the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) and a new navigator from TV Works, an interactive television (iTV) joint venture of Cox, Gemstar and Comcast Corp.

"We are confident in our selection of this world-class solution for our near and long-term needs," said Cox VP of Video Product Development Steve Necessary, in a statement. "The anticipated implementation of the IPG on the TV Works 'TV Navigator' middleware solution and on OCAP middleware is indicative of Cox's and Gemstar-TV Guide's commitment to that technology direction."

In addition to the IPG commitment, Cox has also agreed to continue its distribution of the TV Guide Channel and the TVG Network, which provides horseracing and "interactive wagering." The operator said it will also distribute TV Guide SPOT, a barker channel for video-on-demand services. i

'March of the Penguins' latest VOD title to 'Pop'
Warner Home Video is adding a new twist to its "Movies That Pop" video-on-demand campaign with its coming re-release of March of the Penguins.

March of the Penguins - 
'Movies That Pop'The new release, to be offered on VOD and pay-per-view, will feature facts and figures related to the film through onscreen pop-ups, or, in Warner Home Video parlance, "instant windows of information."

Warner Home Video said the effort marks the first time a studio has released an enhanced version of a theatrically released film exclusively for VOD and PPV.

Warner Home Video originally released the film on VOD and PPV on Dec. 29, 2005. The enhanced version will launch on March 1, 2006.

Hoping to boost VOD and PPV take rates, the studio kicked off its "Movies That Pop" campaign last month with a raft of extras that appear at the end of the film. So far, Warner Home Video has applied "Pop" to Batman Begins, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Dukes of Hazzard. The next title slated to feature "Movies That Pop" extras is My Date with Drew, which will be released to VOD and PPV on Feb. 1.

According to the studio, a recent survey showed that 77 percent of respondents said they "loved" the feature, and 70 percent said they would like the feature to appear throughout the film.

Schummer to head up Via Licensing
Ed SchummerEd Schummer has been appointed president of Via Licensing Corp., a subsidiary of Dolby Laboratories that provides patent licensing technologies and services for third-party intellectual property owners.

Last year, Via Licensing released the licensing terms for patents tied to the 1.0 versions of the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) and the Digital Video Broadcasting Multimedia Home Platform (DVB-MHP). Other licensing programs handled by Via Licensing include 802.11, MPEG-2 ACC, MPEG-4 Audio, Digital Radio Mondiale, TV-Anytime, and H.264/AVC.

Schummer, a 27-year Dolby vet, most recently headed up the company's consumer division. He replaces Ramzi Haidamus, who was appointed senior vice president and general manager of Dolby Laboratories Licensing, and vice president and general manager of Dolby's consumer unit.

Concurrent revenues rise sequentially
Concurrent Computer Corp. posted fiscal Q2 revenues of $18.9 million, versus $20 million in the year-ago period. Revenues rose on a sequential basis, however, compared to the $16.2 million reported in Q1.

Concurrent also narrowed its net loss slightly, with $1.6 million in Q2, versus $1.4 million a year earlier.

The company's on-demand product line generated revenues of $9.8 million in Q3, up 33.7 percent from Q1.

"Given the known slowdown in year-end spending in the cable industry, we are pleased to show quarter over quarter top-line growth," said Gary Trimm, Concurrent's president and chief executive officer. "We have successfully completed the integration of Everstream while holding our base operating expenses in-line."

Broadbus jumps the pond
Broadbus Technologies, the champion of D-RAM-based video-on-demand systems, has established an office focused on global business expansion.

To fuel those international efforts, Broadbus has appointed Alkesh Patel as vice president of sales for EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Asia) and India. Patel is late of MetaSolv, and has held positions at Nx Networks, Cable and Wireless, Gandalf Systems Ltd. and Infotron Systems Ltd.
The company also operates a research and development facility in Beijing.

Broadbus said its deployments in Europe pass nearly 5 million homes.


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.

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Click Here
January 2006
Issue Contents »

Company: Isilon Systems
Headquarters: Seattle, Wash.
URL: www.isilon.com
CEO: Steve Goldman

Claim to fame: Clustered storage systems. On the low end, storage of 67 terabytes, and 250 TB on the high end.

Recent news of note: Movielink LLC selected the Isilon IQ platform as the primary storage system for its studio-backed Internet-based video rental service. According to Isilon, the upgrade from the service's previous RAID arrays enables Movielink to add new nodes in less than 60 seconds.

Company: Digisoft
Headquarters: Cork, Ireland (Europe); Louisville, Colo. (USA)
URL: www.digisoft.tv
CEO: John Allen

Company claim to fame: Markets a range of iTV software platforms, including an app management system (DigiHost), TV ratings data (Zap-Tracking), "t-commerce" and messaging apps. The company also supplies iTV consulting and custom engineering help.

Recent news of note: Last year, CableLabs used an OCAP-based version of Digisoft's DigiBenchmark application to monitor an interactive television interop.

IPTV Forum
Feb. 6-7, 2006
Miami, Fla.
More information:
marcusevansbb.com/IPTV

Internet Home Alliance
Spring 2006 Connected Home Research Planning Conference
March 29, 2006
Orlando, Fla.
>>More Information

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 © 2006 Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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