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News summary for 12/19/07

Wed, 12/19/2007 - 9:11am
CED staff

Cox gets rights for Passport, soon to be its standard IPG
By Brian Santo

With Cox Communications preparing to expand its use of Gemstar-TV Guide’s Passport interactive program guide (IPG) from its Motorola systems to its Scientific Atlanta systems next year, the MSO has negotiated a new multi-year deal with the IPG vendor.

The deal includes product agreements covering Gemstar-TV Guide’s native and OCAP versions of Passport. The contract also covers various features and services of My TV Guide, including remote record. Cox also negotiated for an IPG patent license.

Part of the promise of OCAP (now “OpenCable,” and soon to be “Tru2way”) is the ability to support any software on any box. One of the most prominent examples envisioned by MSOs has been propagating a single IPG across their entire footprints to provide a consistent look-and-feel and brand identity, and a consistent interface for common features and applications.

Cox said it selected Passport as the common IPG largely because of its performance as a gateway for on-demand services.

“We chose Gemstar's Passport and Echo IPG because it provides an excellent user interface for our customers' use, especially with video-on-demand,” said Steve Necessary, Cox’s VP of video strategy and product management. “This is critically important today and will be even more so in the future as our video services become increasingly interactive. This will enable all of our customers to benefit from the same user interface and take advantage of similar applications across disparate set-top box hardware environments.”

Tom Carson, president of the North American IPG Group at Gemstar-TV Guide, said: "We are happy to extend our long relationship with Cox through this new agreement. The Passport IPG solution makes sense for Cox, as it will allow them a seamless transition to a single-source IPG solution throughout their systems. We're also happy that our new agreement includes select My TV Guide features and services, like remote record, which Cox may begin to deploy in the months ahead."

First vendors through door for DOCSIS 3.0 qualification 
By Mike Robuck

In what CableLabs is calling a “major milestone,” Casa SystemsArris and Cisco have become the first companies to earn DOCSIS 3.0 qualification status.

In order to speed up DOCSIS 3.0 rollouts and encourage vendors to submit gear for testing more quickly, CableLabs implemented a tiered test program earlier this year for cable modem termination systems (CMTSs). In a recently completed test wave, start-up Casa Systems received a “silver” qualification for its CMTS, while Arris and Cisco both earned “bronze” qualifications for their CMTS gear.

Faced with increased broadband speeds from the likes of Verizon’s fiber-based FiOS service, cable operators have been clamoring for more speed. DOCSIS 3.0 specifications enable downstream data rates of 160 Mbps or higher and upstream data rates of 120 Mbps or higher.

"This technological achievement is a great step for our industry," said Comcast CEO and Chairman Brian L. Roberts, who is also chairman of the CableLabs board, in a prepared statement. "CableLabs’ rapid certification effort will enable companies to begin to develop products that will support the rapid deployment of DOCSIS 3.0 services in 2008."

To achieve these higher data rates, DOCSIS 3.0 describes a methodology for channel bonding in both the upstream and downstream directions. A minimum of four channels, each with throughput of 40 Mbps, is specified.

DOCSIS 3.0 also incorporates support for the Internet Protocol version 6 (IPv6). IPv6 is the next generation of IP and greatly expands the number of Internet addresses that cable operators may use, allowing them to provide consumers with more IP-based services. Comcast, in particular, has expressed a need for additional IP addresses as it provisions more devices.

Full DOCSIS 3.0 compliance will ultimately be the sole certification level for CMTS vendors once the silver and bronze levels of qualifications are phased out.

FCC rams thru sub cap, lifts cross-ownership rule
By Brian Santo

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved two controversial measures yesterday, the first capping any pay-TV provider’s market share at 30 percent, and the second relaxing media cross-ownership rules.

The board passed both measures despite cautions from some in Congress to reconsider, cautions that included a threat from Rep. John Dingell of an investigation into the way Chairman Kevin Martin has been managing the FCC.

Martin gained the support of the two Democratic appointees of the board to win a 3-2 vote on the cap by framing the issue as a move to ensure programming diversity. “The 30 percent cable horizontal ownership limit set by the Commission will ensure that no single cable operator can create a barrier to a video programming network’s entry into the market or cause a video programming network to exit the market simply by declining to carry the network,” the FCC’s statement on the subject reads.

In the short term, the subscriber cap will serve only to keep Comcast, the only company even close to a 30 percent market share, from buying other sizable cable companies.

By imposing the cap, Martin is antagonizing his Republican colleagues, who object to the cap on philosophical and free-market grounds. People across the political spectrum are publicly wondering why the chairman is wasting time and political capital on the subject, given that a similar effort to impose a 30 percent cap in 2001 was challenged in court and unambiguously rejected.

The cable industry expects to sue to have this new attempt likewise overturned.

The cross-ownership ruling will eliminate rules that prohibit a single company from owning both a newspaper and a TV station in the same market; the proposal was to lift the rule only in the top 20 markets.

FCC releases list of 700 MHz auction bidders
By Brian Santo

The FCC has released a list of all of the companies who have registered to bid in the auction of 700 MHz spectrum, scheduled for Jan 24. As expected, most of the major phone companies are bidding, as are scores of regional and local carriers and wireless companies. Google, as widely reported, is also on the list.

Advance/Newhouse, Bend Cable CommunicationsBresnan CommunicationsCable Montana and Cox Wireless are among the cable concerns who have filed. Also bidding is Vulcan Spectrum, a company controlled by Paul Allen, who also controls Charter Communications.

There are two lists that together provide a full roster of the bidders. The first list includes bidders who have completed their paperwork, and the second list includes those who have yet to complete the necessary documents.

MovieBeam shutters on-demand video service
By Mike Robuck

MovieBeam, which was originally backed by the Walt Disney Co., has powered down its on-demand video service as its parent company reorganizes after filing for bankruptcy.

Disney sold MovieBeam to Movie Gallery in March for less than $10 million, but MovieBeam went under despite $100 million in funding. Movie Gallery, the nation’s second-largest video rental chain, filed for bankruptcy in October.

MovieBeam sent movies over-the-air to a set-top box (STB) with an antenna, which meant it was limited to a market of 30 metropolitan areas in the U.S. The company had just 1,800 subscribers when it ceased operations.

The cost of the STB was $250, along with a $30 activation fee, and movies cost anywhere from $1.99 to $3.99, with an additional charge of $1 for HD content.

According to the Associated Press, Disney began testing MovieBeam in 2003, and the list of backers included Cisco and Intel

Vuze cashes in on $20M round of funding
By Mike Robuck

Vuze Inc., which focuses on delivering high-resolution IPTV video by using a peer-to-peer (P2P) Internet distribution service, announced today that it has received $20 million in its third round of funding.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based Vuze, which has an installed base of 15 million client downloads, said the round was led by New Enterprise Associates. Other investors in the C round of funding included Redpoint Ventures, Greycroft Partners and BV Capital.

 TiVo co-founder and former CEO Mike Ramsay also joined Vuze’s board of directors, the company said.

Vuze was formerly known as Azureus Inc.

"In January 2007, we launched Vuze, which has achieved tremendous organic consumer adoption,” said Gilles BianRosa, CEO of Vuze, in a statement. “Over the course of the year, we closed more than 100 premium content partnerships, while opening our platform to maverick content creators everywhere.

This funding round will enable us to capitalize on the significant consumer adoption of our platform in the U.S. and Europe."

Vudu offers free STB with purchase of Sharp Aquos TVs
By Mike Robuck

Vudu has partnered with Sharp Electronics Corp. for a holiday promotion that offers the Vudu set-top box, for free, when consumers purchase certain models of Sharp’s Aquos HDTVs.

Vudu’s movie box, which ports movies and other content from the Internet to TVs, normally sells for $399. The free Vudu box will be offered through Jan. 5 on purchases of Sharp Aquos TVs with 42-inch or larger screens.

"Through this offer, new Aquos owners will be able to instantly enjoy thousands of movie titles, television content and more on a pay-as-you-go basis,” said Bob Scaglione, SVP and group manager of Sharp’s product and marketing group, in a statement.

Vudu uses a peer-to-peer (P2P) system that allows customers to watch a movie while other parts of the movie are being downloaded from other Vudu users’ boxes. The company pre-loads some items, such as company logos, so that the movie can start while the rest of it is being downloaded.

New prez takes helm at CTHRA
By Brian Santo

Lynne Ramsey, SVP of human resources (HR) for Charter Communications Inc., will begin a two-year term as president of the Cable Telecommunications Human Resources Association (CTHRA).

Juan Munoz, regional VP of HR for Time Warner Cable's Texas Region, will end his term as head of the organization and will serve on CTHRA's executive committee and board of directors as immediate past president.

In addition to Ramsey and Munoz, CTHRA's 2008 officers include: VP/president-elect Lisa Chang, EVP of HR for The Weather Channel Co.; secretary Erin Hand, VP of talent and development for Cox Communications; and treasurer Julie Cookson, SVP of HR for Scripps Networks.

Each officer will serve a two-year term on CTHRA's executive committee. In addition, Lyn Cason, partner at Warren & Morris Ltd., has been appointed to a one-year term on CTHRA's executive committee with direct oversight of the organization’s research and development.

After several years of service to the CTHRA board, three individuals will end their terms on Dec. 31: Timothy Goodly, SVP of HR for Turner Broadcasting System Inc.; Brian C. Koenig, SVP of HR for Scientific Atlanta; and John "Jack" Jackson, VP of administration and HR for C-SPAN. Jackson and Koenig both held the role of CTHRA president during their tenure.

Broadband Briefs for 12/19/07

* Liberty Cablevision deploys Everstream systems
By Brian Santo

Concurrent Computer’s Everstream operation said that Liberty Cablevision has deployed its Operational Intelligence solutions. Everstream products provide operators with near real-time data that they can use for their systems. In 2005, Liberty Cablevision launched VOD in Puerto Rico using equipment from Concurrent.

* ETI’s Triad supporting Motorola’s IP Exchange Gateway
By Traci Patterson

Enhanced Telecommunications Inc.’s (ETI) Triad offering now supports Motorola’s IP Exchange (MIPX) Gateway. The Triad extends a network’s life by supporting MIPX, which provides integration to IPTV, HDTV and other emerging technologies over the existing VDSL framework, ETI said. The offering also manages and provisions equipment and services for a variety of video, voice and data technologies.

“Service providers face complex challenges supporting their subscriber’s ever increasing appetite for more and more bandwidth,” said Peter Pifer, president of ETI. “Triad helps service providers launch new technologies such as IPTV and FTTH over a period of time without having to replace their current infrastructure or disrupting services.”

* Building B names start-up vet Lundie to CFO
By Traci Patterson

Building B, which offers an on-demand video entertainment platform, has named Martin Lundie as the company’s CFO. Lundie has 20 years of experience with managing, guiding and operating start-ups. He has served as CFO at several companies, including Picolight Inc., PolyStor Corp., Vixel Corp. and Lightwave Microsystems Corp.

“Building B is redefining television by harnessing the powerful combination of wireless broadcast technologies and the Internet to deliver an experience specifically tailored for each individual consumer,” Lundie said. “It’s an honor to be a part of the team that is willing to help drive an industry to a new opportunity. It is inspiring to be with a team that not only understands the consumer’s desires, but has developed a solution that delivers incredible value to content, broadcasters, broadband providers and advertisers, while delivering a more interactive and personalized television experience.”

* Verizon’s FiOS TV wins in N.Y., Mass.
By Traci Patterson

Verizon’s FiOS TV service will soon be available in Oyster Bay Cove, N.Y., and Rowley, Mass., thanks to newly approved agreements in the respective communities. The telco’s video service is now offered in 77 New York communities and 63 Massachusetts communities.

* AT&T's U-verse adds features in Wisconsin
By Traci Patterson

AT&T’s U-verse customers in Wisconsin now have access to new TV features: AT&T U-bar, which brings customizable weather, stock, sports and traffic information to the TV screen; Yellowpages.com TV, a new way to search for local businesses and other information on the TV; and AT&T Yahoo! Games, which are also available on the TV screen.

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