xOD Capsule Newsletter - June 6, 2006

Tue, 06/06/2006 - 4:14am  |  CED Broadband Direct  |  Current Issue  |  Subscriptions
June 06 , 2006

Jeff Baumgartner Bandwidth getting a boost
While much of the focus on on-demand tends to gravitate toward video, two more operators have placed more attention to the role of bandwidth in the on-demand realm - albeit via two different methods.

Cox Communications is partnering with Camiant Inc. to allow high-speed customers to preview higher levels of cable modem service speed tiers using the CableLabs-specified PacketCable Multimedia (PCMM) architecture. The idea, of course, is to whet customer appetites with higher speed tiers with the hopes that they might upgrade after getting a free taste. Cox presently is conducting a market trial of this in the Pensacola, Fla., area, but expects to roll it out more widely on a market-by-market basis, according to company VP of Voice & Data Product Development Scott Hightower. Cox has offered speed previews for some time, but this is the first time it will do so via the PCMM platform. Previous attempts required the system to tell the modem to perform a soft reboot during evening hours. The new approach is expected to be more automated.

Comcast Cable is also ratcheting up speeds on the fly, but its new patent-pending "PowerBoost" technology will increase speeds automatically whenever the system can tap into excess capacity available on the network. The technology will increase speeds up to 12 Mbps (downstream) for subs of the MSO's 6-Meg tier, and up to 16 Mbps for those who take the 8-Meg service. Although customers are expected to see a "noticeable difference" when they download a big file, they are not really in control of how and when their bandwidth is being boosted. Some food for thought: Customers will likely appreciate this new system more if they are also provided with an on-screen indicator that tells them when their modems are indeed hitting the gas.

These trends (Buckeye CableSystem is also among those giving bandwidth-on-demand a go, by the way) are indicative that the future of high-speed services is just not about the offering of faster and faster tiers, but about adding smarts that also beef up the value of the offering.

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

OCAP: The next generation
CableLabs is working on a new version of the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP) that will incorporate enhancements tied to IP-based tuning, home networking, switched broadcast, advanced graphics and mobile applications and services.

Cable's R&D house expects to release the new specs, tentatively named OCAP 1.1, in the third quarter of 2006, according to CableLabs SVP of Advanced Platforms & Services Don Dulchinos, who presented on the subject last week during a CTAM Webcast titled "OCAP: From Specs to Next."

The current version of OCAP, 1.0, is considered "frozen." That is getting set-top makers, headend suppliers and application developers up-to-speed with the development and introduction of OCAP products as top operators move ahead on some extensive OCAP deployment commitments announced in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

One of the "big items" with the new specs will be "resource contention" in OCAP-based digital TVs, Dulchinos explained, referring to how processing and memory power will need to be distributed properly to support cable-fed applications as well as those supported natively by the TV.

"That [issue] is nearly resolved," he said.

CTAM Senior Technology Advisor Leslie Ellis, who kicked off the session, also acknowledged this overlap, noting that it's one of the issues that need to be ironed out for the "big fight" happening between the cable and consumer electronics industries regarding the evolving two-way "Plug & Play" agreement, which will enable interactive cable services (such as VOD) to be supported by digital TVs without the need for a separate set-top.

OCAP requires processing, which in turn costs money. For a CE industry that runs on "wafer thin margins," anything that adds cost to the mix is open to "vigorous debate," Ellis said.

The IP tuner function of OCAP, slated to be added later this year, will enable the delivery and termination of IP-based streams to the set-top or television. Those will complement traditional MPEG-delivered digital content.

OCAP is also being outfitted with quality of service and security features designed to help customers access and distribute digital content over home networks.

Dulchinos noted that some CE devices that hang off of home networks aren't designed to support cable services, but a common middleware should free up that ability.

The new specs will also be made to support cross-platform applications, including the classic example: Caller ID displayed on the TV screen.

The forthcoming version of OCAP will also support mobility. OCAP's underlying technology is Java-based, which also happens to be the major programming language for the cell phone business. Sprint, which uses Java, is of course teamed with Comcast Corp., Advance/Newhouse, Cox Communications and Time Warner Cable on a wireless joint venture.

But how are operator deployment plans for OCAP proceeding?

Time Warner Cable is committed to roll OCAP in six markets this year, said Joan Gillman, the MSO's vice president of interactive television and advance advertising.

Although Time Warner initially will take an incremental approach by porting existing apps to the OCAP platform, including the MSO's first "major" OCAP app - the Mystro Digital Navigator -- she said the company has high expectations that third parties will also develop apps for OCAP.

As OCAP boxes are introduced to the market and begin to reach scale, Time Warner plans to identify more features and apps that will help to differentiate cable from its competitors, she explained.

Programmers, including Disney/ABC, are among those that hope to develop these third-party OCAP apps.

ABC and Disney, which have produced enhanced TV for about six years primarily through two-screen (PC and TV) synchronization, have discovered that viewers who interact with programs tend to recall advertising more accurately, explained Jonathan Bokor, senior director of business development and sales for Walt Disney Internet Group/ABC Enhanced TV.

Interactivity and synched-up enhancements represent "the sugar that helps the medicine go down," Bokor quipped, but later explained that they will also help to address the concerns programmers have with digital video recording and ad-skipping.

He also discussed that OCAP will give programmers a simplified app development scheme. "Without that, the economics of developing the interactive content is not (economically) manageable for us," Bokor said.

Panelists also touched on EBIF (ETV Binary Interchange Format) and its role with cable-delivered enhanced television applications. A parallel committee at CableLabs is looking to EBIF as a common format for ETV applications - particularly the insertion of triggers in the broadcast stream that would launch the application -- that would run on legacy and next-gen set-tops, Gillman said.

She noted that two EBIF interops with programmers, operators and third-party app developers have already taken place, and that Time Warner Cable hopes to test it later this year, perhaps in a few markets.

The Webcast was an extension of the recent publishing of an OCAP primer developed jointly by CTAM and CableLabs.

Concurrent nets small town VOD deployment
Morristown Utility Systems of Tennessee has launched video-on-demand services using a small market platform developed by Concurrent Computer Corp.

The utility company introduced VOD earlier this month, and is offering "hundreds" of hours of on-demand movies and other content from basic and premium cable networks. Morristown Utility Systems, which provides water and electric services to about 14,000 homes and businesses, is starting construction on a new fiber-to-the-home network.

Concurrent said its Small Markets VOD system is designed for operators with up to 4,800 digital subs. The introductory platform, which can scale streaming and storage separately, supports up to 480 simultaneous streams, and 860 hours of MPEG-2-encoded content.

Concurrent said it will show off the new platform for the first time at the 2006 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, set to run June 20-23 in Denver.

Although smaller operators face competition just as their bigger brethren do, many have lamented that VOD historically has been out of their reach due to high deployment costs tied to equipment and technical training.

VOD boosts SeaChange in Q1
SeaChange International said Q1 revenues rose 5.5 percent to $33.2 million, buoyed by a rebound at its video-on-demand division.

The company's Broadband unit, which covers VOD and ad insertion hardware and software, recorded quarterly revenues of $16.3 million, up $2 million from the year-ago period. Sequentially, VOD revenue rose 71 percent to $10.8 million, due to a "significant rise" in on-demand order activity among North American cable operators, SeaChange said.

"Our VOD system revenues in the first quarter nearly doubled from the fourth quarter of last year, and have reached their highest level since the second quarter of fiscal 2006," said company President & CEO Bill Styslinger, in a release.

Still, those results were not enough to avoid a net loss of $4.4 million (15 cents per share), widened from a net loss of $600,000 (2 cents per share) a year earlier.

SeaChange also noted it made an $8 million payment in April related to its protracted court battles with VOD rival nCUBE, which is now part of C-COR Inc.

Styslinger said he expects a solid Q2, adding that shipments and unfilled orders for the period have already exceeded total VOD system revenue recorded in Q4 of fiscal 2006.

DirecTV tells subs 'What's Hot!'
DirecTV last week debuted an application that allows viewers to instantly access a list of the top ten most popular programs on the service, in real time.

DirecTV's 'What's Hot!'
A new app from DirecTV gives subs a real-time glance of the most popular programs on television.

"What's Hot!" is on DirecTV News Mix (Channel 102) and DirecTV Sports Mix (Channel 104).

DirecTV aggregates viewing data from its subscribers, tallies the results and displays the rankings. In what amounted to an aside, DirecTV alluded to using the data for a future recommendation service.

Another advantage for the company may have less to do with the "What's Hot" feature itself than with DirecTV advertising it as an interactive feature, which appears designed to undermine the argument that DBS isn't capable of interactivity - which remains true if the cable industry's definition of interactivity is used. The issue, from DirecTV's point of view, is what consumers can be trained to consider interactive.

CinemaNow downloads Buena Vista deal
Buena Vista Home Entertainment has become the latest content house to allow consumers to download and own select movie titles through the CinemaNow service.

Buena Vista, the home video arm of The Walt Disney Co., initially will offer download-to-own rights to "Glory Road" on June 6, a date that coincides with its DVD/home entertainment window.

'Glory Road'
CinemaNow will
offer 'Glory Road'
for download in
the pic's DVD

Buena Vista said that same day-and-date strategy will apply to the release of "Eight Below" on June 20, and "Annapolis" on June 27.

The studio noted it will also make titles such as "Flightplan" and "The Insider" available for download via CinemaNow.

"We are pleased about this broadband distribution opportunity which allows Buena Vista Home Entertainment to provide viewers with more flexibility in viewing their favorite new releases and catalog movies on this emerging distribution platform," said Buena Vista EVP of Sales, Distribution and Trade Marketing Pat Fitzgerald.

Both CinemaNow and rival service Movielink launched download-to-own services in April.

CinemaNow downloads can be viewed via approved PCs and other portable devices. Movielink has done one better, allowing customers to burn titles to DVDs. Those DVDs, encoded in Windows Media format, will not play on standard DVD players, but will play on the PC to which the title was originally downloaded.

Sling Media jumps the pond
Sling Media Inc. has introduced its "place-shifting" device, the Slingbox, to consumers in the United Kingdom.

The European version of the Slingbox features an integrated PAL analog/digital tuner with DVB-T support. Sling Media is coupling the new hardware with the release of the 1.1 version of its PC software, which supports 16:9 widescreen and pre-installed or user-created "skins."

Sling Media has released the place-shifting Slingbox for U.K. distribution.

DSG International Plc is offering the product in stores and online via its PC World chain. The Slingbox will also become available in Currys and the new stores during the next four to six weeks, the companies said.

In the U.K., the Slingbox will retail for GBP 179.99 (approx. U.S. $339.00).

To spur the effort, Sling Media has hired Stuart Collingwood as VP of Europe. Collingwood, who previously served as VP EMEA for Liberate Technologies, is based in London.

Movielink hooks up with Bollywood
Movielink, the studio-backed, Internet video-on-demand/rental service, said it will offer "Bollywood" fare via a deal with EROS International.

Movielink said the deal marks the first time Bollywood films will be available via digital distribution in the U.S. In 2004, Canadian MSO Rogers Cable launched a VOD service called "Bollywood Oye!"

Movielink expects to begin offering Bollywood fare from EROS next month.

Bollywood is a nickname for a popular Hindi-language film industry based in Bombay, India.

BellExpressVu offers Sudoku
BellExpressVu of Canada, in partnership with NTN Buzztime Inc., is offering the popular Sudoku puzzle game via its Game Galaxy service.

Customers will be able to track their personal game results and be eligible for prizes by registering their scores online.

Heard On The Net...

Get on VOD, get votes?
The Wall Street Journal takes a look at how VOD is beginning to play a bigger role in the political arena, as operators offer free on-demand access to debates, and enable customers to become better informed on key issues.

Recent Deployments
Service operator
Video server vendor
VOD backoffice supplier
Movie-on-demand aggregator
Asset delivery/ management
Morristown Utility Systems
Morristown, Tenn.
Shekou CATV
Shenzhen, Shekou and Guangdong (China)

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.

Company: ChoiceStream Inc.
Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.
CEO: Steve Johnson

Claim to fame: Makes and markets personalization and recommendation engines for Internet entertainment services such as Vongo, AOL, Yahoo!, Akimbo and Movielink.

Recent news of note: Picked up $13.1 million in a "B" round of financing led by Sutter Hill Ventures. ChoiceStream has raised $34.7 million so far.

Company: CableLabs Inc.
Headquarters: Louisville, Colo.
CEO: Dr. Richard Green

Company claim to fame: Serves as the N. American cable industry's R&D house, building specs and test plans for several high-level projects, including DOCSIS, CableHome, PacketCable, OpenCable, Go2Broadband, VOD Metadata and Digital Advertising.

Recent news of note: Is in the process of enhancing the OpenCable Application Platform (OCAP), a specified middleware platform. The new specs, tentatively titled OCAP 1.1, will, among other things, apply a focus on IP-based tuning, home networking and advanced graphics (for more, see story, this issue).CableLabs also just released the 2.0 version of its video-on-demand content/metadata specs.

Globalcomm 2006
June 4-8, 2006
Chicago, Ill.
More information: Click Here

2006 RFID Forum
June 7-8, 2006
Toronto, Canada
More information: Click Here

Conference for the Broadcast Cable Financial Management Association (BCFM)
June 11-13, 2006
Orlando, Fla.
More information: Click Here

Annual Tee Tam Golf and Tennis Event

Dellwood Country Club
June 12, 2006
More information: Click Here

SCTE Cable-Tec Expo
June 20-23, 2006
Denver, Colo.
More information: Click Here

2nd Annual
C-COR Global IP Summit

June 28-29, 2006
Athens, Greece
More information: Click Here

CTAM Summit
July 17-19, 2006
Boston, Mass.
More information: Click Here

Cross Platform Summit 2006
Aug. 8-9, 2006
West Hollywood, Calif.
More information: Click Here

IPComm 2006
Sept. 25-27, 2006
Nashville, Tenn.
More information: Click Here

2006 FTTH Conference & Expo
Oct. 2-5, 2006
The Venetial Resort
Las Vegas, Nev.
More information: Click Here

CTHRA Fall Symposium
Oct. 18, 2006
Philadelphia, Pa.
Park Hyatt Hotel
More information: Click Here

TelcoTV 2006
Nov. 6-8, 2006
Dallas, Texas
More information: Click Here

Archive Now Available

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



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