In the past, the biggest pain point for cable was often bandwidth management, or dealing with HDTV or the digital transition. Now? The biggest pain point is competition, a panel of CTOs of some of the biggest manufacturers in the business agreed Tuesday.
The TV business has been competitive for decades, so that's saying something. The difference is that now cable is being assailed from so many more angles: from traditional DBS and telco rivals to over-the-top providers to potential rivals such as "virtual MSOs" – and even, perhaps, Google (which, by the way, just bought Motorola).
Which led session moderator and Comcast executive vice president of national engineering and technical operations John Schanz to pose the question of the year to panelist Daniel Moloney, president of Motorola Mobility: Just exactly what is Google doing with Motorola?
The answer: Nothing much – not yet, anyway. It's still very early after the acquisition, and the two companies continue to be run independently. But Motorola has always worked collaboratively, Moloney said, "and that won't change."
There's no shortage of issues to address. High-quality security remains crucial, said Bob McIntyre, vice president and CTO of Cisco's service provider business. "Otherwise, the value we've invested in our networks will go away."
Both Samsung vice president of content and product solutions Eric Anderson and Arris Chairman and CEO Bob Stanzione believe user interfaces have to improve.
"If you have to press the INPUT button on something in a home with more than two people, you're screwed," Stanzione observed.
With motion sensing, voice input and an expanding universe of choices, "the UI is becoming more difficult," Anderson said.
On top of that, more things are getting connected. Samsung has a refrigerator that comes with an 8-inch LED screen. The average Samsung fridge screen gets used for 1.6 hours a day, often for AccuWeather or music services like Pandora.
Connected TVs are also here to stay.
"Surprise – video seems to be the most popular application," Anderson said. "But there's also music, and we're starting to hear rumblings of virtual MSOs. You look at YouTube, spending money to get independent filmmakers to create exclusive content – you can see where all this is going."
Schanz brought up the issue of energy consumption and energy conservation.
Intel vice president and CTO Justin Rattner noted that many electronics devices in the home "spend most of their lives in standby." But even in standby mode, they're still drawing a lot of power. Intel and others in the industry are developing the ability to run some of these devices at threshold levels. But then the issue is sensing when someone might be preparing to use the device.
Moloney agreed. "Will people want to wait one minute for their devices to come back up? The answer is no."
Stanzione characterized the next few years as years of transition – from analog to digital, from standard-definition to high-definition, from MPEG to IP – "and you can't junk what you have."
One other thing, he said: "We have to make cable cool" if cable wants to continue to attract some of the best engineers. "We're not perceived as cool as we are."