National Cable Television Cooperative president and CEO Rich Fickle marked his second-year anniversary at the helm last month. Fickle and the NCTC’s 950 affiliate members, along with the American Cable Association, will gather in sunny San Diego next week for The Independent Show, and Fickle provided CED with a preview of hot topics.

CED: What will be some of the main technology themes at The Independent Show next week?

Rich Fickle: We’ll be focused on hosted solutions for guides, TVE apps and high-speed data service management. Other focal points will include OTT platform providers like Roku and next generation video platforms such as TiVo and Arris and search and preference apps. 

CED: The NCTC recently announced that its TV Everywhere service, WatchTVEverywhere (WTVE), was in use by more than 100 of its affiliates. Can you talk about the importance of multi-screen services for Tier 2 and Tier 3 MSOs, and about the technical challenges, including authentication and multiple backoffices, in implementing it?

Fickle: Multiple screen service is important to have in parity with large multichannel video programming distributors as many of our members are in very competitive markets; while consumer demand has yet to be pronounced it is expected to grow. Most members need turnkey/hosted service solutions to make the economics work.

In the case of authentication, there was not a viable choice so we partnered with one of our members, MCTV (formerly Massillon), to create WTVE and we also provided commitments to Clearleap to enable them to offer a differentiated solution. Both providers present members choices at lower costs than other options.

I also believe that while multi-screen is exciting, more effort should be put forth to apply IP technology to enhance the TV experience. A great opportunity exists for vendor partners to provide a hosted service that brings rich VOD choices, greater bandwidth efficiencies and a better user experience at a cost structure much less than the existing MPEG2 video platforms.

Many of members have low digital set top penetration, minimal VOD and need to reclaim bandwidth to support expanded HSD offerings. This means that a hosted service provider can create great value for our members, which should drive scale efficiencies.  It is a little bizarre to see better content choices via a tablet versus the TV.

Also, I see services like Netflix continuing to grow driven in part by having no set-top box or local network infrastructure costs. Operators must look to ways to reduce costs while improving the TV experience. What good is TVE if you loose subs on the TV?

CED: What about getting programmers on board for the WatchTVEverywhere service?

Fickle: We have deals done with all but two notable programmers, which we are both in negotiations with.

CED: We hear a lot of chatter in the cable industry in regards to new cloud-based user interfaces and services, what are the NCTC and its affiliates doing in this area?

Fickle: Our members have been pioneers with the Arris gateway solution and the expanded options now being offered by TiVo. We support Rovi’s plans to also provide solutions. We also have many member IPTV markets that have very rich offerings.

We are encouraging our vendor/partners to pursue the opportunity for a centralized solution to address the legacy MPEG2 markets in scale, targeting beyond the high end triple play customers, which, if done right, solves the generation of TVE offerings as well.

CED: What about commercial services for smaller MSOs?

Fickle: Commercial services are an important growth opportunity for many members. In some rural markets, commercial customers are less present so it depends on the member’s market. We saw large investments by some members last year, which in many cases was driven by the upside in consumer HSD and commercial services.

CED: So does renewing carriage agreements still rank at the top of the list of concerns for NCTC’s members? What are some other areas you’re working on?

Fickle: Yes; in the near term, our priority mission is managing programming costs. Other initiatives in process include; national backbone and transit carrier solutions to increase capacity at lower costs, next-gen video platforms and exploring new business models with OTT providers.

CED: What are the NCTC’s approach to CCAP, DOCSIS 3.1 and the migration to all IP?

Fickle: It’s a little early on with CCAP as the initial solutions seem to favor large markets. We are big supporters of upgrading to DOCSIS 3.0/3.1 as evidenced by partner deals we did over the last year on CPE, CMTS and network management solutions.

Migration to IP is a huge opportunity, but not yet fully addressed by partners; however, there are some promising developments in the works.