Can you believe it's been 10 years for both "American Idol" and the Broadband 50? We were going to invite Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez to join our panel of judges too, but in the end we decided to rely on a very distinguished (but by necessity secret) panel of broadband industry experts to vote on the Top 50 hits in broadband this year. This year's No. 1, over the top, is the obverse of last year's No. 1, TV Everywhere. It looks as if OTT will be the biggest challenge/opportunity that multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) will have to contend with for some time.
The Captains of Cable continue to insist that cord cutting still isn't showing up as a quantifiable phenomenon, even as the industry lost subs for the first time in recent memory. Fewer TV households? Not according to the Census or to Nielsen.
Streaming video has far surpassed P2P traffic on broadband networks, proof that there's a rapidly growing appetite for OTT video. On the positive side, it's almost all legally obtained video.
TV Everywhere is a brilliant response, but one countermeasure isn't going to suffice. The list of OTT competitors is long (Sezmi, Apple, Netflix, Hulu, Samsung, etc.), and it's going to get longer next year as more erstwhile partners – programmers – start offering up their video directly.
And it's a matter of time before currently less-competitive telcos get tired of reselling satellite TV and start offering broadband as broadband and video – in other words, two services at or near the price of one. – Brian Robert Santo
With so many different types of video content, video navigation is a chokepoint for consumers. While having thousands of choices is great, scrolling through the grid guides line by line is driving cable operator subscribers into the arms of rivals such as Netflix.
Cable is well aware of this dilemma and is working on a host of new electronic program guides, such as the Trio guide that Cox launched earlier this year.
Cable operators and vendors are also working on search and recommendation engines that tie together linear, VOD and Internet content to cut through the clutter. With the official launch of Comcast's Xfinity TV last year, Comcast said it had close to 150,000 online video choices, but it's also providing tools to remotely manage DVRs and to create "watchlists." Other cable operators are directing customers customers to their Web portals to help them navigate the sea of video choices, while new applications, such as iPads that function as remote controls, are also being developed. – Mike Robuck
Advanced advertising or (dare we say?) targeted advertising has been a Holy Grail for the cable industry over the past few years, but last year the pieces started to jell. Canoe Ventures got its paddles into the water over the summer with the launch of its 30-second request for information (RFI) overlays, which initially included Comcast Networks, Discovery Communications, NBC Universal and Rainbow Media Holdings as partners.
Separately, Comcast Spotlight said in October that its RFI campaign reaches more than 30 markets across the nation, representing more than 10 million homes, via its interactive TV advertising platform.
BlackArrow partnered with Cablevision's Rainbow Media for interactive VOD ad trials, and the vendor also teamed up with Fox Cable Networks for an addressable advertising trial that ran across the VOD platforms of Fox's FX, National Geographic and Speed channels.
Early this year, Charter announced a partnership with FourthWall Media and Concurrent on a multi-year agreement to develop an EBIF-based interactive TV platform that includes data-based advertising offerings. – MR
Delivering content to multiple screens is the must-have new business model for cable, telecom and wireless service providers. And customers are driving the model.
Cable lost 741,000 video subscribers in Q3, SNL Kagan reported, and with 5 billion devices expected to be connected to the Internet by 2020 and 2.5 billion TVs globally, many with Internet-connected sets, customers are demanding more content over more devices to more screens.
Advertising is deep in the mix, too, especially mobile advertising, with clickthrough video ads and call-to-action technology not far away.
OSS is the tricky part, with billing, customer service and operational functions all needing to play well together on both traditional and IP networks. – Craig Kuhl
The 4G space is getting cramped with the addition of LightSquared and with Clearwire's partnership with Sprint, Google, Intel and three cable MSOs.
Even smallish BendBroadband in central Oregon is in the mix with its recently launched wireless network.
The move to 4G (LTE and WiMAX, which could convert to LTE) is being enabled by the cost-efficient use of spectrum, with data as the driver – especially mobile data.
Time Warner Cable's IntelliGo could be cable's poster boy for entry into the 4G space. And LightSquared's $7 billion 4G network, expected to launch in 2012 with LTE, should move 4G deeper into the marketplace. – CK
A few years ago, public Wi-Fi, managed home networks, mobile backhaul, social networking and applications weren't priorities; now they're among the hottest trends in the industry.
It's all in response to consumer behavior. Consumers, aided and abetted by consumer electronics companies, are driving the industry.
So far, network operators just aren't keeping up. The huge disparities between what consumers expect and what any single service provider can deliver is creating enormous opportunities for companies from all corners of the electronics industry to bridge those gaps with new technologies and new business models – all chewing into MVPDs' business. – BRS
It's an Internet powerhouse, a content provider, a verb, the owner of an increasingly popular robot operating system, and possibly a broadband service provider.
No matter what Google does, or how well it does it, the company deserves a close watch. It's got major market clout and cool points from the kiddos, so if you don't know what the behemoth is up to, you should definitely Google it. – Traci Patterson
IP is now considered by many to be a cheaper, more efficient technology than MPEG. It's becoming the go-to protocol for anytime, anywhere content and applications.
IPTV, albeit with nagging interoperability, capital and operational expenses slowing its growth, is nonetheless making gains, mostly outside the U.S., through the delivery of converged and blended services and integrated Web content.
Cox, Verizon and AT&T, and even undersized SureWest and BendBroadband, are in the IP camp. And why not? By 2013, predicts In-Stat Research, a half-billion Web-enabled CE devices will be in play, most notably digital cable, IPTV, DTT set-top boxes, digital TVs and IP network cameras.
All, analysts maintain, will have a profound impact on IP networks and the entertainment and media industries.
Business services are already the domain of IP in general, and Ethernet in particular. – CK
It's a huge deal, the biggest in years, that changes the media landscape and has a bunch of people freaking out.
The avoidance of government/regulatory entanglements will be challenging, and the American Cable Association and consumer rights groups are doing their best to entangle Comcast. A study commissioned by the ACA concludes that consumers over the next nine years will pay at least $2.4 billion more for pay TV if restrictions are not imposed to keep the new Comcast from abusing its market power.
Either way, the fictionalized "30 Rock" version of the story is way more entertaining. – TP
The biggest inhibitor to giving subscribers any content, anywhere, on-demand isn't the hardware, it's not being able to adequately track who's paid for what – in other words, the inability to identify and authenticate each sub in every possible circumstance.
Keeping track of every individual consumer's level of subscription, attendant playback rights, in which locations, and on what devices is an incredibly complex task. The potential for giving consumers the option to automatically select services, and the ability to offer individualized services, only compounds the difficulty.
Unified customer relationship management (CRM) is the new frontier.
One thing that would grease the skid would be a simpler rights regime, but that's up to the lawyers. – BRS
Apple is another behemoth that bathes in copious amounts of market clout and cool points. Whatever it does, try to do something almost as hip, or, better yet, just jump on that tech-savvy bandwagon of theirs.
The iPad is a slam dunk – a Michael Jordan tongue-all-hanging-out "cradle dunk," to be exact.
As for its role in video, Apple TV may be a placeholder for something more serious, and taking over video thru iTunes is on the roadmap. – TP
Falling revenues from a shrinking DVD market coupled with creative new technologies are prompting content producers and their distribution chains to experiment with compressed movie windows.
Netflix is now a franchise player with exclusive online licensing agreements, while Sony and Disney tinker with individual licensing agreements for customers wanting near-instant access to theatrical movie releases. Cable might be on the verge of getting a "premium" window right after theatrical release.
It's now about capturing that lost posttheater DVD revenue. – CK
The good: Time Warner Cable and Walt Disney not only kept the ABC and ESPN shows on the air during their retransmission negotiations, but they also came up with a new, forward-thinking deal that included adding ESPN content to Time Warner Cable's TV Everywhere service.
The bad: Dish Network, Cablevision and AT&T all lost programming during retransmission spats with programmers.
The ugly: News Corp.-owned Fox Networks pulled its programming from Cablevision's 3 million subscribers, leaving them without access to "Glee," "House," New York Giants games and the World Series. And just to show it was really serious, Fox also yanked online access to its shows from Cablevision subscribers at one point. –MR
While not quite approaching critical mass, whole-home DVR services gained foothold in consumers' houses last year. Comcast got into the act with its AnyRoom DVR service, while Cox bowed its premium Plus Package tier.
AT&T added new features to its whole-home DVR offering, while DirecTV went nationwide with its service. Time Warner Cable also started trialing a premium multi-room DVR service.
It was also a good year for MoCA, as well, since most of the above used it to deliver video around homes. – MR
Equipped with the new, more robust 802.11n incarnation, cable is starting to embrace Wi-Fi hotspot networks as a relatively easy way to start supporting mobility.
Most MVPDs still don't trust Wi-Fi enough to make it their primary option for home networks, but more and more consumers are using it to distribute OTT video around the home. As MVPDs begin to manage home LANs, they will simply have to deal with Wi-Fi. – BRS
It's not easy being green. But where it makes business sense, assures one BB50 judge, is with power efficiency, with minimizing truck rolls and distance traveled through better network and workforce management systems, and with recycling – when it can be done efficiently.
The industry is off to a good start with this win-win initiative, with the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers paving a solid path. – TP
Cablevision is buying Bresnan; Knology acquired Sunflower; CoBridge bought some systems from Charter. Each has its own distinct value, with Knology/Sunflower matching up an over-builder and an ambitious mid-size operator trying to expand.
Could this be the beginning of a new wave of consolidation? Most analysts concur: No, it's expanding footprints. The top-five MSOs are fully engaged in growing ARPU at their existing systems. Charter is arguably the only MSO with some pieces available in the foreseeable future following its 36-system sale to CoBridge.
With most systems fully valued, costs are high, so few – if any – bargains are out there. – CK
Verizon and AT&T may not be building out their networks like in years past, but they did plenty to keep cable operators awake at night.
AT&T busied itself with the launch of its TV Everywhere portal and kept adding apps in that tied its mobile and video services together. It also launched a Wi-Fi hotspot in New York City to try to alleviate congestion from iPhones on its network.
Verizon did a field trial of Alcatel-Lucent's variation of XG-PON, also known as 10 Gigabit PON, and also tested XGPON with Motorola and Huawei. – MR
OK, so maybe there wasn't a tsunami of EBIF apps in 2010, but EBIF did wash into at least 25 million homes. Canoe Ventures launched its RFI EBIF application, Cablevision partnered with Zodiac Interactive for iTV across its entire footprint and Charter, along with FourthWall Media, said it would have EBIF enabled in 50 percent of its footprint by year-end.
And Comcast partnered with itaas to port the TVWorks EBIF user agent to its Cisco boxes, while CableLabs and Canoe Ventures announced the completion of a retooled EBIF specification. – MR
The trend line for wireless broadband capacity growth is a nice gentle grade; the trend line for the growth in wireless broadband demand is a hockey stick. That disparity is driving a ceaseless demand for more backhaul from MSOs.
And we're not just talking cell towers. Sooner rather than later, it's also going to drive the delivery of femtocells into homes and offices and picocells into public places, also for backhaul. You ready? –BRS
The notion: Time Warner Cable would trade for the L.A. and San Diego operations of Cox to take control of most of the SoCal market.
Turns out that privately held Cox is highly unlikely to part with two of its signature systems (Orange County and San Diego).
TWC, analysts say, would no doubt be interested in the two, and there could be some type of smaller system swap down the road. For now, however, Cox is under no pressure to sell and historically has shown patience in any merger/acquisition scenario. – CK
Network traffic and the inevitable hogand-clog congestion caused by overheated use of bandwidth are pushing MSOs and other broadband providers into usage caps and metering.
With industry experts purporting 90 percent of bandwidth being used by the top 10 percent of consumers, usage caps are bound to be implemented and are at a growing number of MSOs and other providers.
The key, experts maintain, is providing generous caps, clear communication with customers and visible dashboards as crucial components to any usage cap. And it must happen. – CK
Cable-Tec Expo allowed for a threedimensional look at the 3-D market. Based on sales of 3-D sets so far, TV makers are declaring the technology a success. But 3-D isn't at the top of most programmers' list of things to offer right now.
The good thing about it: It doesn't require any changes to the cable plant. But it's seen as a competitive issue – DirecTV is pushing it hard – with associated delivery costs, rather than a business with potential revenue streams.
And no matter how awesome football may look in 3-D, most consumers won't invest in the technology until it is available sans glasses. – TP
If you're not storing absolutely everything (and you're not), the issue is what to store in which part of the network and how long it should stay there. After all, today's top-10 film is next month's long-tail content. Having scattered storage automatically makes a network a content delivery network, and almost certainly interfacing with other companies' CDNs does.
"Storage is cheap," noted one BB50 judge, "but operationally complex." – BRS
There are going to be no more IPv4 Internet addresses to hand out sometime in the next couple hundred days. Configuring a network to support IPv6 is not trivial, and yet there are network operators that haven't even formalized a transition plan yet.
This isn't a software upgrade, people, and begging, borrowing or stealing someone else's reserve of numbers to buy time is not a viable strategy. The consensus from people who have been prepping this transition for years is: Get on the stick right now or you're screwed. – BRS
There's an app for everything it seems. But you have to admit that the Appledeveloped, content-friendly framework is genius.
Cablevision's Gemma Toner, senior vice president of marketing and business development, said at the CTAM Summit that her company trialed a series of EBIF applications, some that allowed viewers to request information, others that offered coupons and discounts, and still others that offered free samples. The last category of trials was so popular that Cablevision had to pull the plug on them early because they kept running out of samples.
For those that scoffed at the original iPhone and its "Kool-Aid-drinking followers," what say you now? Huh? That's what I thought. – TP
This is all about quality of service (QoS) and quality of experience (QoE). Of course HD and 3-D video have to look great, but QoE also means top-notch audio quality. And as more interactive applications get rolled out, they had all better work flawlessly.
Check it out: Now that just about anybody can distribute video and apps, the differentiator is going to be service quality, and that means monitoring and measuring the network. – BRS
MPEG-4 is now being shipped in about every set-top box and is fast-becoming the standard codec. The challenge is achieving critical mass with the set-tops, experts maintain.
HD is a crucial part of the MPEG-4 mix, as well. The benefit to using MPEG-4 is that new HD channels require about half the precious bandwidth of MPEG-2. That requires swapping out older legacy set-tops.
Delivery of content to other devices such as iPads, PCs, game consoles and others are all being heavily skewed toward MPEG-4. The conclusion: Get used to MPEG-4 ubiquity. – CK
With the advent of bendable fiber, "carrier-class" Wi-Fi, micronodes and LANs, cable operators are now able to snag more customers in the multi-dwelling unit segment.
On the hospitality side, cable operators such as Time Warner Cable are partnering with companies like LodgeNet to offer video services in hotels without set-top boxes. This year, Time Warner Cable Business Class (TWCBC), which is the business services division of Time Warner Cable, launched its HD Video for Hospitality service in the Carolinas, in the New York City area and in upstate New York. – MR
OK, DOCSIS 3.0 channel bonding on the downstream has not yet reached commodity status, but it certainly became more ubiquitous this year, much to the chagrin of Verizon and AT&T. Comcast has D3 in more than 80 percent of its footprint and launched more of its 100 Mbps business-class service this year, while the residential 105 Mbps tier is in front of 25 million homes.
Videotron took the top over-the-top speed slot with its 120 Mbps service, while Suddenlink deployed its 107 Mbps tier, along with other D3 tiers, across more of it systems. – MR
The Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers has been a team player this year. It hired its first-ever CTO, Dan Howard, who has specific expertise in IP – where cable is headed. The SCTE's thrust toward improving its educational programs also includes a special emphasis on IP networking. And the org solidified its interest in coordinating with other industry organizations by appointing former CableLabs CEO Dick Green to the SCTE board.
Add to that the SCTE's Smart Energy Management Initiative (SEMI, for short), its Green Pavilion at Expo and the new 11.28kW roof-mounted photovoltaic solar power system at its headquarters, and you can see that that's one busy, but jolly, Green Giant. – TP
Cable is taking a page from the Internet computing world by moving to cloud-based architectures. One example: ActiveVideo demonstrated a cloud-based interactive VOD offering, as well as a 3-D TV interface.
The real gains for cable operators are four or five years down the road when they start to build cloud-centric architectures for IP services that require less headend equipment. The end result will be saving on CPE costs while taking advantage of shorter development cycles for new services and applications. – MR
In September, the FCC opened up unused airwaves between TV channels for more powerful wireless broadband networks. The so-called "white spaces" can be used to deliver broadband connections that can function like Wi-Fi networks on steroids. Just like the spectrum used by Wi-Fi, white spaces will be available to all users for free, with no license required.
The agency calls the new technology "Super Wi-Fi" and hopes to see devices with the technology start to appear within a year from the likes of Google, Microsoft and Dell. – TP
The FCC was a tad busy this year with network neutrality debates, a pending Comcast-NBC deal, and defining and expanding broadband.
But the Commission found time to give small cable operators an early Christmas present in the form of eased FCC rules concerning CableCards, with the FCC now supporting CableCards that customers can self-install and approving the use of HD set-tops without CableCards.
The FCC is still considering a device referred to as "AllVid" that would be similar – a retail device that consumers could purchase and connect to any service, be it cable, telco, satellite, wireless or delivered via broadband. – TP
Videoconferencing is getting a makeover with the addition of Cisco's umi telepresence and Logitech's Revue with Google TV.
Umi is Cisco's consumer version of videoconferencing and includes HD video. And it's not just for cable. Cisco is expected to bring umi to Verizon's FiOS next year. Logitech's Revue is similar, but with Google TV as a partner.
Logitech's LifeSize Room 220 is next-gen HD video communications, with four visible sites, transcoding and point-to-point throughput of 8 Mbps. Logitech could be right when it boasts: It's better than being there. – CK
When you couple more Internet videos coming into homes with faster DOCSIS 3.0 tiers and more VOD streams, it seems a given that cable operators need to have some way of keeping their fingers on the pulse of their bandwidth management. Time Warner Cable and Comcast have been bitten by their bandwidth management schemes in the past, but this year AT&T, Google and Verizon gave hints that they are moving toward consumption billing.
Videotron does have bandwidth caps in place, and its users are eventually timed out if they forget to turn the service off from their PCs. Subscribers can also view the amount of bandwidth they've used during a given month on a Web page, and the Canadian cable operator is also working on e-mail alerts and other forms of notification for when usage starts to max out. – MR
CableLabs is keeping its foot on the tech-spec accelerator. Thus far in 2010, it has successfully demonstrated interoperability across a number of advanced advertising interfaces, published new specs for stereoscopic 3-D programming and completed Wi-Fi federation specs.
It has also released a tru2way spec that will open home networking capabilities for tru2way throughout the home and that is considered a major boon for application developers.
The Metadata 3.0 spec was also released, which will allow for more flexibility in how programming metadata is delivered. – CK
Months after Neil Smit jumped ship to become president of Comcast Cable Communications, interim CEO Michael Lovett got the "interim" tag removed.
And a sigh of relief came in September when the operator's Class A stock resumed trading on the Nasdaq stock market, a milestone for the post-bankruptcy Charter.
As for "out with the old, in with the new," Charter recently completed the sale of cable systems serving approximately 65,000 subscribers in seven states to CoBridge Communications in an effort to enhance operating efficiencies by divesting geographically non-strategic assets.
All the while, the company has refused to slack off when it comes to investing in new technology. – TP
Passive optical networks (PON) and other fiber-related overlays are great for greenfield deployments and hard-to-provision MDUs, but there's still a large cost for replacing legacy CPE equipment.
With that said, there was still a fair amount of PON/EPON/GPON-related activity this year. To wit: CableLabs released specs for DOCSIS Provisioning of EPON (DPoE) for business services, and Shaw announced a 100-gigabit fiber-tothe-home trial, as well as design work on a PON that includes an RFoG overlay that would eventually lead to Gigabit Ethernet services. – MR
The biting realities of retransmission fees, near-unobtainable stimulus help from the broadband stimulus fund, and little access to capital for upgrades and improvements have a chokehold on smaller cable operators.
Yet many are exhibiting an entrepreneurial DNA and are moving into partnerships and new services beyond cable, such as wireless, creating new revenue streams. A closer partnership with the National Cable Television Cooperative should help with generating higher advertising revenues and reducing capital expenses. – CK
Tru2way took an important stride forward with its CableLabs reference implementation, a move that offers a consistent interpretation for software developers and others who'll now have a definitive platform to deliver interactive applications.
It could prove to be valuable in the hotel and MDU markets, in particular. Tru2way is showing promise as a viable interoperable platform in those segments, especially for hotels, whose mission is to have all technology at the headend with tru2way in each room.
In the meantime, a major tru2way release brought home networking capabilities to application developers. – CK
Switched digital video (SDV) was back in the limelight this year after Comcast said it was looking at augmenting its analog-todigital project with SDV in some systems and Time Warner Cable worked on several SDV deployments.
The cable industry notched a regulatory win in October when the FCC dismissed a proposal from TiVo that would have required cable operators to use an IP backchannel for the delivery of SDV to DVRs and other retail boxes with Cable-Cards. – MR
RCN has deployed TiVo Premiere boxes. Suddenlink will start installing them, as well as non-DVRs, a move that will gain Suddenlink a path toward multi-room DVR capability. Suddenlink also intends to collaborate with TiVo on the development of a next-generation "whole-home" solution for deployment in 2011.
So friend or foe? Compared with Hulu and Netflix, does the DVR-pioneer-turnedcable-partner really seem all that scary, even with that new $99 promo price? – TP
Benefiting from a tight urban footprint, the company was able to go allfiber. Videotron is raising the speed bar to 120 Mbps with a 170 GB download limit and 30 GB upload limit: Its Ultimate Speed 120 is expected to raise some eyebrows with customers and competitors alike.
Mobile speeds are catching up, too, and are expected to top 42 Mbps by using dual-carrier HSPA technology. Videotron has been launching faster speeds at a good clip throughout its market. – CK
Converged multi-service access platform (CMAP), which seeks to collapse edge QAMs and cable modem termination systems into one platform, may be a technology of the future, but it was one of the more active technologies at this year's Cable-Tec Expo.
The cable industry has been pushing for denser edge QAMs for years now, which CMAP will deliver. Cable operators also want the CMAP products to save on space and powering. CMAP specs, which were spearheaded by Comcast, were finalized recently. – MR
The major sports leagues leverage the market power inherent in their enormous fan bases. Sports help drive the move to more expensive tiers, and the leagues know it. They pushed HD, they're a force in OTT, they're big proponents of interactive apps, and they'll make or break 3-D. They're players, so to speak. – BRS
The CE segment had a hallucination of a retail set-top, and the CableCard was foisted on cable. It was a big fail, but the concept won't die. Now it's called AllVid, and everybody gets to share the pain. It's another guaranteed loser, but a lot of resources are going to be wasted pretending to support it while it self-destructs. – BRS
The proposed legislation mandating loudness control is likely to fade away, but technological fixes are still available; and though there will be no direct ROI, it might be a way to buy a little good will from subs. Maybe. – BRS
The ability to take a single video asset and resize it for any-size screen on the fly is a fundamental prerequisite for delivering video to any device, anywhere, ondemand. Everybody had to have one, and now just about everybody does. – BRS
The $6.8 billion stimulus bill (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) was enacted to promote wireless communications upgrades, and in some cases it has. Yet for many it has become a paperwork nightmare, most notably for smaller operators short on time and resources.
And most of the stimulus money has gone to rural telcos. Small operators contest the unfair skewing of dollars to that industry.
However, armed with a better understanding of the funding process, a new wave of wireless and cable companies are vying for next-round stimulus money. – CK