When making even trivial decisions, people tend to count on experience before acting. If you’ve enjoyed a dish at a restaurant, you’re inclined to order it again, or recommend it to a colleague.

Same for the business of prognostications. Before you invest your valuable time reading our picks for 2007, you’re probably interested in how we did with our bets for 2006 we published late in 2005.

Our cover boy for that issue? A machine, not a person. Our thinking: iPod, therefore I am. We featured a video iPod, with Apple CEO Steve Jobs on its screen. Not bad.

The migration of video content from linear TV to other platforms was the story of 2006. A plethora of television networks struck deals with Apple to offer their content on iTunes for downloading to video iPods.

OK, so we had the concept right, not the method. While the iPod became ubiquitous, as you know, another off-TV video outlet took consumers and the media world by storm, particularly in the latter half of 2006 — a fiendishly simple website called YouTube.

Its dominance sparked Time to designate "You" as its Person of the Year. Oh, the irony. Months earlier Time readers voted for their Person of the Year with a video posted on, you guessed it, YouTube. No surprise, founders Chad Hurley and Steve Chen sold YouTube to Google for $1.65 billion, just 21 months after launch.

In short order, television programmers were providing clips to the service, which started paying copyright respect this year in deference to the pros now jockeying for views with the amateurs. Overnight, the amateurs turned pro and big-time media players realized the world had changed under their feet. Within months, Comcast launched an amateur (with a dash of pro) video portal, Ziddio.com, while Al Gore and Joel Hyatt’s previously scorned Current TV — largely programmed by viewer videos — suddenly seemed prescient, if not brilliant (even as its own partnership with Google fell apart).

More irony. Hurley and Chen confessed to Time that the broadband in the YouTube office is so slow, it takes forever to watch their own site. Still, the potent combination of broadband video and the world’s No. 1 search engine is threatening cable-based content navigation.

What of our other ’06 picks? We said the theme of competition from the telcos would dominate headlines but that the real hand-to-hand battle for customers might not come until ’07 or ’08. Right so far, but we’ll see. Some of our newsmaker picks were right on: McSlarrow, Britt, Roberts and Seidenberg of Verizon. We said digital fragmentation would continue and that plug-and-play, retrans, time-shifting and VOD measurement would hum along. Fine. Our choices for MSOs to watch included Cablevision, Comcast and Cox. Our programming editors said MTV Networks, NBC U, Scripps and Disney would dominate. Right again. We even picked Google as a tech company to watch.

We trust you’re convinced that our first foray into forecasting was successful enough for you to wade into the dangerous waters with us and read our next few pages, loaded with intelligence and predictions for 2007. To spread the risk, we’ve again asked cable insiders to provide their best guesses about what we’ll see in 2007 from the industry and their companies. Check back in 12 months to see how we and they did.

We also welcome your predictions about what the next 12 months may bring for cable: please click here to share your thoughts, and then check back in February when we will publish the best prognosticators! — Shirley Brady and Seth Arenstein


TOP 7 NEWSMAKERS TO WATCH IN ’07

[1] ERIC SCHMIDT

CHAIRMAN/CEO, GOOGLE

Google’s spacious new office in Manhattan puts it in close proximity to not only Madison Avenue, but also some of the country’s largest media companies. While mining richer advertising plays is ever so important, cozying up to the likes of Time Warner Inc. certainly is crucial.

Eric Schmidt and his young band of some 10,000 employees are riding a double-edged sword with recently acquired YouTube. A key test in 2007 is how well the company will avoid copyright infringement lawsuits from media heavyweights concerned that their videos are illegally displayed on YouTube while at the same time striking more alliances to allow big media companies to use YouTube to their own advantage.

Schmidt recently told Republican governors that winning the 2008 elections will depend largely on how well a political party uses the Internet. His efforts to capture a larger market share among politicos could influence the cable industry — as could his efforts in Washington to maintain net neutrality. JS

[2] (TIE) JOHN MALONE

CHAIRMAN, LIBERTY MEDIA AND LIBERTY GLOBAL

It’s been more than seven years since John Malone headed a major American distribution platform as president and CEO of Tele-Communications Inc. He’s back.

And in 2007, he may give cable execs sleepless nights as they wonder if direct broadcast satellite has more spunk than they thought: Pending News Corp. shareholder approval, Malone’s Liberty Media will take a controlling 39% stake this year in DirecTV, which has about 16 million U.S. subscribers.

The task for Malone, should the deal close, will be to transform DirecTV from a handyman’s special into a triple-play delight. Look for possible alliances with a wireless broadband company like Craig McCaw’s Clearwire Corp., or a DirecTV deal with another Liberty investment, Wildblue Communications, which provides satellite-delivered broadband. And industry observers also say they wouldn’t be half surprised if Malone tries to seal a merger deal with DirecTV’s satellite competitor EchoStar Communications.

With DirecTV in his pocket, Malone will also be in a position to give Liberty’s programming assets, like Starz Entertainment and Discovery Communications, a more solid affiliation base. JS

[2] RUPERT MURDOCH

CHAIRMAN/CEO, NEWS CORP.

Rupert Murdoch’s swoop-in-and-snatch-it-up style of acquiring properties is the stuff of legend. Recently his stealth attacks to acquire MySpace and video game site IGN Entertainment were quite a surprise for Viacom Inc. And across the pond, his BSkyB unit stole the chase on competitors by becoming the largest shareholder of ITV, the biggest commercial TV network in the U.K.

While it’s hard to predict Murdoch’s next move, it’s clear his company faces some key challenges. One is turning MySpace into a much more profitable asset through international expansion and spinning that huge base of online traffic into a bigger pot of gold.

When News Corp.’s deal to sell its stake in DirecTV to Liberty Media is completed, Murdoch will no longer be a competitive threat to cable operators. Although cable networks still face some challenges when it comes to Murdoch — just ask CNN as the Fox News business channel spin-off becomes reality. JS

[3] IVAN SEIDENBERG

CHAIRMAN/CEO, VERIZON COMMUNICATIONS

Ivan Seidenberg has a lot riding on the success of Verizon’s $25 billion investment to extend fiber to millions. His long-term incentive pay is partially tied to the success of the rollout. With that added impetus, Seidenberg is likely to spur his team to extend FiOS TV well beyond its current universe of some 140 markets, and do his best to assure that the cable industry has a formidable a competitor in the quadruple-play world.

He made clear in a 2006 speech that he’s gunning for widespread deployment of 100-megabit networks, allowing grandparents to "practically be able to blow out the candles…at their grandkids’ birthday party."

Despite the rivalry, cable companies can rest assured that Seidenberg believes that bandwidth-intensive online services like Microsoft and Google should "share the cost" of the pipe, and he’s likely to do battle alongside them on that front. JS

[4] EDWARD WHITACRE

CHAIRMAN/CEO, AT&T

This 6-foot-4-inch Texan like things big. And he’ll get a big, last hurrah to cap off his career should AT&T manage to get its $67 billion acquisition of BellSouth cleared in Washington. The merger would create the world’s largest telecom provider, with $120 billion in revenue. As part of the deal, AT&T will get full control of Cingular Wireless, the largest wireless provider in the U.S. Its sheer girth in the mobile space will present a key challenge for MSOs attempting to make inroads into the mobile-phone business.

The cable industry fought valiantly against AT&T’s many successful attempts to alter franchising rules to its advantage in 2006. That struggle will undoubtedly continue in 2007, and the industry will get a clearer sense of how successful AT&T’s U-verse Internet-based video service will be. That new revenue stream is crucial to AT&T, as its landline residential telephony business erodes, thanks to VoIP services. JS

[5] BRIAN ROBERTS

CHAIRMAN/CEO,COMCAST CORP.

Brian Roberts watched his company’s stock rise like a rocket in 2006, thanks to stellar financial results. The big questions for 2007: Can he do it again and how much higher can the stock go? Comcast’s on-demand library has become extremely rich, thanks in part to megadeals with Walt Disney Co. and CBS, along with a Sony Pictures/Lionsgate joint venture for the on-demand horror channel FearNet. Comcast’s customers watched 180 million on-demand shows in July alone. We wouldn’t be half surprised to see that figure double in July ’07.

A key challenge next year is the Sprint Nextel joint venture for wireless phone service, which also involves Time Warner Cable, Cox and Advance/Newhouse. Can they all agree on a service proposition that will blow the entrenched competition out of the water?

Whether Roberts’ attempts to lower carriage costs of sports networks will be resolved before year’s end is debatable. JS

[6] JAMES DOLAN

PRESIDENT/CEO, CABLEVISION SYSTEMS CORP.

In 2007, James Dolan and his family may finally realize their long-held dream to take Cablevision Systems private. They just need to satisfy that pesky committee weighing their bid, which values the company at $7.9 billion. And given Cablevision’s extremely strong financial performance, some analysts suspect the offer will need sweetening to pass muster. Another alternative that looms in the background is a buyout by Time Warner Cable, whose coffers should be filled with ready cash following its IPO. Most observers say Dolan is intent on running the company and isn’t interested in such a deal. But if the company remains public, shareholders could force his hand.

Cablevision is also taking a calculated risk in 2007 by not raising its rates for standard service — an idea that would have been unheard of in the good old days. JS

[7] KEVIN MARTIN

CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL COMMUNICATIONS COMMISSION

There are few positions more important to the cable industry than chairman of the FCC. Kevin Martin has made it clear that he has every intention of reinforcing that view by what he says and, ironically, by what he doesn’t do.

The issues of interest to cable are well known: must-carry, retransmission consent, net neutrality, the set-top integration ban, mergers, new franchise rules for telcos and the like. Martin has made it clear that he is, generally, not on the same page with the industry on virtually any one of those. The Martin M.O. is an iron grip on the commission’s agenda and bureaus, rendering other commissioners powerless should he choose to refuse to put items up for a vote, or only allow votes on questions he knows will go his way. That’s the likely scenario for the next long year. SE


Top 7 Issues to Watch

[1] CHANGING OF THE GUARD IN D.C.

With Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA) at the helm of the Telecom Subcommittee, you can bet that cable’s representatives will be busy.

For years Markey has been a vigilant critic of the industry, tending to favor rhetoric from the Consumer Federation of America over dreary facts and figures. But despite the public castigations, Markey is also one of the most knowledgeable members of Congress regarding the complex issues surrounding telecommunications, and with a Senate still closely divided it is unlikely that any radical regulatory overhauls will occur.

There will be, however, lots of very public discussion. The chairman of the full Commerce Committee, John Dingell (D-MI), while formerly a staunch supporter of the telcos, has eased off lately. In the Senate, Daniel Inouye (D-HI) will likely continue the course of his predecessor, Ted Stevens (R-AK). SE

[2] BANDWIDTH MANAGEMENT

Just when it seemed cable was ready to put bandwidth issues in its rearview mirror — or at least on the back burner — the stakes were raised. Sure, digital made more things possible and required far less real estate. But seemingly overnight consumer toys got so much bigger and faster, and operators found themselves back in the thick of the bandwidth debate. Now, with commercial services, voice, wireless and data applications gobbling up large chunks of bandwidth — and, most important, HD rampaging toward critical mass — operators large and small are faced with tough choices.

With the all-digital world still two years away, forcing operators to carry bandwidth-hungry analog signals until then, and with DBS’ HD offerings growing more robust daily, inquiring minds want to know: What can cable do to manage its current bandwidth and satisfy the marketplace demand for HD and other new, sexy, bandwidth-intensive products? MCA

[3] COMPETITION

Keep an eye on Verizon’s FiOS.

FiOS phone, Internet access and TV are credible matches for their cable counterparts; the FiOS triple-play is priced competitively; and FiOS customer service is outstanding. In short, FiOS customers have reason to be happy and to multiply. The question is, will Verizon continue pouring capital into its costly FiOS rollout for uncertain financial returns? Another 2007 cliff-hanger is whether the big telcos will finally hook up their market-dominating mobile wireless services with their phone, Internet and nascent video products.

During 2007, Internet TV will attract more viewers and compete for a bigger share of ad spending. Although the emergence of this new medium poses a challenge for cable, it also will present attractive opportunities for cable operators to join the fun by building their own websites offering cross-platform cable/Internet content and advertising.

Perhaps in 2007 we’ll learn how DBS will break out of its one-way network box in an increasingly interactive, two-way world. PDS

[4] DTV TRANSITION

We’re inching ever closer to the Feb. 17, 2009, deadline for shutting off analog broadcast signals. Sure, there’s always the possibility Congress will get cold feet and push the date back, but everyone has to operate for now under the assumption that this is the date of the long-awaited digital TV transition.

NCTA, the Consumer Electronics Association and the National Association of Broadcasters have already been discussing a consumer education campaign. That effort is expected to pick up momentum this year. "It’s distressing how few people know that the DTV transition is coming," NCTA president/CEO Kyle McSlarrow says. As the 2009 deadline gets closer, look for more debate about downconverting. Cable operators can convert a broadcaster’s digital signal to analog so that subs without DTV sets can see it. Broadcasters are OK with this, but don’t want cable to have the approval to downconvert an HD signal to standard-definition to save capacity (the Senate Commerce Committee’s stalled telecom bill would have allowed operators to downconvert local HD signals of must-carry stations until Feb. 17, 2014). AM

[5] NET NEUTRALITY

This is likely to be the year of net neutrality, with proposed regulations defining how ISPs provide and bill for Internet service.

The subject will come up repeatedly in just about any forum imaginable: hearings on Capitol Hill, considerations by the FCC of possible need for regulations, conditions on mergers or as part of numerous other seemingly unrelated dockets. Those pushing for the most extreme forms of net neutrality tend to be unregulated companies; they have the freedom to jump into virtually any setting and attempt to attach the net neutrality issue. Hence, you can expect to hear the debate about net neutrality come up in telecommunications hearings, cable rate hearings, copyright hearings, privacy hearings and just about anywhere else they might be tangentially related.

Successful adoption of rules or a new law, however, is much more problematic since even the proponents disagree on what "net neutrality" should actually mean. SE

[6] RETRANSMISSION CONSENT/MUST-CARRY

Retransmission consent and multichannel must-carry are likely to collide with each other this year. The long-simmering battles over retransmission consent are becoming more public, and broadcast’s demands for lots of money for the delivery of "free TV" are starting to get political notice.

The tying of both markets and products by broadcast negotiators is also starting to tickle the ears of the antitrust community. FCC Chairman Kevin Martin still insists that multichannel must-carry is a good idea, while other commissioners say they don’t have the regulatory authority to mandate such things. This is having enormous spillover effects as the chairman’s office indicates that until the issue is resolved, presumably his way, everything else relating to cable will be burdened. While Martin likes the a la carte idea, his retrans-demanding broadcast friends spurn any notion of it applying to them. SE

[7] INTEGRATION BAN

No one appears optimistic that the FCC will act on several pending waiver requests relating to the July 1, 2007, set-top integration ban. After July 1, new boxes deployed by cable operators must have separable security (i.e., a CableCARD). Cable operators, including Comcast, Charter and RCN, have asked the FCC to waive low-end, low-cost digital boxes — arguing that their continued deployment will help with the digital transition.

NCTA wants the ban deferred until operators deploy downloadable security or until 2010 (whichever comes first). But the requests have sat at the FCC for months, forcing operators to order boxes that are more than double the price they’re paying for integrated boxes. Some operators, especially smaller ones, are concerned they may not even be able to get the new boxes by July 1. The cable industry says the ban will mean higher prices for consumers and force CableCARDs on people who don’t want them. NCTA chief Kyle

McSlarrow has even suggested that if it stays in place, cable households should be made eligible for an NTIA voucher program — making the program significantly more expensive than it would be if it only provided vouchers for over-the-air-only homes that need to purchase digital-to-analog converters. Will this ban hold? Should FCC Chairman Kevin Martin continue not to act, will Congress hear cable’s arguments and step in? AM


TOP 7 CABLE OPERATORS TO WATCH

[1] CABLEVISION

Sure, Cablevision is every trade wag’s favorite soap opera — sort of a cable version of Dallas, Dynasty and As the World Turns. But in fairness the company deserves attention in 2007 for at leat three reasons.

First, as an MSO, Cablevision is really nothing more than a huge cable system, and that system just happens to be in the biggest, most important media market in the world.

Second, the company has proven that financially and operationally it may be as sound as any operator this side of Cox.

And third, when you consider Cablevision’s whirlwind history in light of its current position as a model MSO, you have to think that maybe, just maybe, COO Tom Rutledge is the single most effective executive in cable. MCA

[2] COMCAST

Putting aside the fact that Comcast is cable’s 800-pound gorilla and is always worth watching, it will be particularly interesting to follow the news coming out of Philadelphia. The chatter is that at some point early in the year Comcast will finally pull the trigger on an option it’s held since its AT&T Broadband deal and buy much or all of Insight Communications.

Comcast has denied such intentions, but given Comcast’s and Insight’s passion for bundled services and Insight’s sterling reputation, the deal seems like a no-brainer.

The only question is how much of Insight does Comcast buy? And if it doesn’t snatch up the whole company, is there long-term viability for a pared-down Insight? MCA

[3] TIME WARNER CABLE

Should bandwidth management emerge as a leading issue this year, then Time Warner Cable certainly qualifies as an MSO to watch. No operator is working harder at the prudent allocation of bandwidth, as evidenced by the company’s "sustainable networks" initiative — a comprehensive overhaul of Time Warner Cable’s bandwidth strategy.

EVP/chief technology officer Mike LaJoie, SVP of strategy and development Kevin Leddy and SVP Mike Hayashi — the company’s techno-brain trust — are card-carrying members of the hybrid fiber-coax fan club.

They have helped Time Warner emerge as an industry leader in the rollout of bandwidth-saving technologies, including the granddaddy of them all, switched video.

2007 will witness the real beginning of switched video in the consumer marketplace and its influence on the company’s bottom line. MCA

[4] SUNFLOWER BROADBAND

Somehow, even as other members of cable’s band of merry independents cry poverty and offer watered-down versions of digital products — or offer none at all — Kansas-based Sunflower continues to defy the odds.

The company is like a progressive college town; it combines global thinking with small-town virtues. Sunflower has proven year in and year out to be a best-practices model for small, independent operators, because general manager Patrick Knorr continues to be a cable guy who gets it.

Even more, while other MSOs may toot their own horns, you’d have to look far and wide to find a cable operator more committed to excellence. MCA

[5] MEDIACOM

Despite his background in the savage but otherwise buttoned-down world of investment banking, we’ve always considered Mediacom chairman and CEO Rocco Commisso a bit of a street fighter.

Rocco’s bare-knuckle skills will be tested early this year as his company continues its very public and increasingly ugly retrans squabble with the Sinclair Broadcast Group. Narrowly defined, what’s at stake is much of Mediacom’s real estate in Iowa, where Sinclair owns numerous local stations. But in a macro sense this speaks to a larger issue. It’s 2007, and finally a midsize MSO and midsize broadcaster have drawn a line in the sand to determine the answer to the decades-old cable/broadcast question: Who needs whom more? MCA

[6] SUDDENLINK

Unless you’re paying attention, Jerry Kent can sneak up on you. Tucked away in St. Louis, surrounded by all those red states, he has spent his career as a builder, buyer and seller of cable systems, with little or no fanfare.

Kent’s latest venture, Suddenlink (which broke his habit of running companies beginning with the letter C — Charter, Cebridge, Cequel III) was in full-scale acquisition mode in 2006, catching its breath just long enough to ink a VoIP deal with Sprint Nextel. Suddenlink should be watched closely in 2007 in part because, as we said, Kent can be pretty sneaky, but we’ll watch him mostly because of his newfound love of voice service and belief that the triple play will be the linchpin of his company’s growth. MCA

[7] COX

Deciding to keep an eye on Cox in 2007 — or any year for that matter — is not unlike falling out of a boat and deciding to hit water. After all, the Atlanta-based operator is both a colossus and, arguably, the best-run MSO in cable.

But Cox deserves special attention this year. The company is now unquestionably Pat Esser’s, a guy who has not only established himself as an industry leader and visionary, but done so with a refreshing, everyman style.

And while company president Esser has maintained the high service standards set under Jim Robbins, as well as the company’s position as a leader in bundled services, our sense is — and granted, this is just a hunch — this year we just might discover that Esser has a little deal maker in him as well. MCA

TOP 7 PROGRAMMERS TO WATCH

[1] DISCOVERY

In 2007 a change is gonna come to Silver Spring in the form of David Zaslav. As the new president and CEO of Discovery Communications, Zaslav will bring the new-media savvy and digital distribution chops he honed at NBC Universal to bear on DCI’s 100-plus networks and related businesses around the world.

As the replacement (or e-placement?) for outgoing chief Judith McHale, the former NBC U Cable president becomes the torchbearer for founder John Hendricks, his mentor. Here in the U.S., Discovery’s flagship channels are already revving up for the future. Several channels, including Travel and Discovery Health, have built online business units around themselves. Travel eventually wants to book trips for viewers, while it’s conceivable Discovery Health will help you find the best doctors. SB

[2] NBC UNIVERSAL

David Zaslav’s exit (see above) from the NBC U mothership was just one aspect of the turmoil at the GE-owned media behemoth last year. Besides losing its president of cable distribution, NBC U bid adieu to TV Group president Randy Falco (now running AOL) and ad sales chief Keith Turner. Staffers are awaiting 5% workforce cuts as it reinvents itself under the "Television 2.0" banner.

Also anticipated in ’07: the ascension of Jeff Zucker, CEO of the TV Group, to NBC U chairman/CEO, succeeding Bob Wright, who’s reportedly being pressured by GE to retire early. Zucker has already strengthened his bench, upping Zaslav lieutenants Bridget Baker to president of TV Networks Distribution and J.B. Perrette to president of digital distribution. SB

[3] NFL NETWORK

The things a channel has to do these days to get carriage — even a network owned by an all-American brand like the National Football League. NFL Net CEO Steve Bornstein dangled free-view offers to New York/New Jersey cable operators interested in its college bowl game coverage, using the Dec. 28 Texas Bowl featuring Rutgers and Kansas State as the lure. Many headlines later, Time Warner Cable and Bornstein settled on digital carriage instead of his more basic (cable) instinct.

At press time, Cablevision said Bornstein’s channel could drop by for just the game (and leave after the post-game coverage). Will operators be bowled over enough to strike long-term deals in ’07? SB

[4] CBS

Les means more: Wielding the No. 1 broadcast TV network (talk about a Survivor), CBS president and CEO Moonves boasts major retransmission consent muscle. He also owns CSTV and Showtime in the house that Sumner Redstone split (and that Tom Freston was duly kicked out of in last year’s most eyebrow-raising network exec ouster). Showtime has bolstered its original programming with new series like Dexter, Brotherhood and Sleeper Cell and returning hits Weeds and The L Word. CSTV launched a broadband channel to cover more than 10,000 live college athletic events during the school year, and also partnered with Comcast on The mtn., the oddly monikered MountainWest regional sports network launched on Cox. SB

[5] HBO

While A&E stokes the fires of Sopranos maniacs with the off-premium debut of Tony & Co. this month, the fever pitch will be highest when the final nine episodes of the landmark series unspool in April. There will, no doubt, be sobs and bloodshed when the mobsters take their final bow, but it won’t mark the end of HBO’s death grip on Sunday nights if chairman/CEO Chris Albrecht has his way. He authorized a hit on Deadwood last year because he wanted to clear the decks for creator David Milch’s next project: a "surf noir" series — yes, as in surfers — called John From Cincinnati. In the meantime, HBO has new seasons of Rome, Extras, The Wire, Entourage and Big Love returning. In short, more than enough to keep HBO the standard bearer for excellence in TV programming. SB

[6] ESPN

It’s understandable that, 26 years removed from launch, nobody remembers what the acronym ESPN acronym stands for (so we’ll refresh your memory — the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network). But baby, look at it now. The abode of "Bode" (aka president/CEO George Bodenheimer) since 1998, ESPN is now a multiplatform phenom: Witness the multimedia rights deal that content EVP John Skipper navigated for an Arena Football League stake last month. Expect similar deals this year.

Now a mature entity reaching more than 90 million U.S. homes, 147 countries and numerous businesses, the network needs to be a digital powerhouse to keep growing. But it learned last year (when it shuttered its stand-alone Mobile ESPN biz) that deep pockets and e-zeal aren’t enough to future-proof any company. SB

[7] COMCAST

To understand where Comcast’s programming properties are headed, watch its execs. Last year, the word "programming" in job titles was changed to "content," so Matt Bond became EVP of content acquisition. Comcast Programming Group president Jeff Shell promoted E! Networks’ chief Ted Harbert to run the new Comcast Entertainment Group (which will start making big moves this year). Diane Robina, who reports to Shell as head of the Comcast/Sony joint venture channels, launched hybrid online/VOD channel FearNet on Halloween and has more up her sleeve for ’07.

Amy Banse’s Comcast Interactive Media is creating online channels such as Ziddio, a user-generated video portal, and Matt Strauss’ Select on Demand VOD boutique of channels has evolved to add local content such as pet adoptions. Add mobile to the mix this year, and Comcast’s programming becomes truly, madly digital with linear, broadband, on-demand and wireless platforms to play on. SB


Top 7 Technologies to Watch

[1] WIRELESS

OK. We’ve heard it all before. The cable industry is going to launch the quadruple play…any day now…blah, blah, blah. Well, two developments in 2007 may put any doubts about the industry’s wireless commitment to rest for two reasons. The first is the Sprint/MSO wireless joint venture, which could yield its first commercial wireless launches in 2007. The second is the nearly $2.4 billion bet cable made in the FCC’s Advanced Wireless Services auction this year. The real question is what cable will do with those mobile devices. DVR control? Video? Remote home automation? We can’t wait to find out. MG

[2] OCAP

OCAP is one of those acronyms that pops up frequently at cable association conventions and in the trade press — yet many industry execs have no clue what it means. That’s understandable, considering it’s a term of art for CableLabs techies and other network gurus. But OCAP — or OpenCable Applications Platform — is the primary technology that will make all of those next-generation set-tops talk to each other. That means a customer could buy a box outright and plug it into any OCAP-compliant cable system. Can you say, "off my balance sheet"? Comcast’s deal in January to buy potentially millions of OCAP-compliant set-top boxes from Panasonic suggests 2007 may be the year OCAP finally gets its close-up. MG

[3] DCAS

And you thought OCAP was bad? Welcome to its OpenCable-related cousin DCAS — or Downloadable Conditional Access System. DCAS is a way for any device to connect to a cable system and instantly be able to adopt that system’s security protocols. One example would be hooking up a store-bought set-top or even a video iPod to the cable system, downloading a few recent episodes of HBO’s The Wire and enjoying them on the fly. The copy protection would stick, pleasing content owners and leading — hopefully — to more downloadable content for all. Cable is trying to get its DCAS act together in 2007 to make downloadable security a reality. MG


[4] HOME NETWORKING

This one is tough. Home networking has literally reared its head at conference after conference for more than a decade. The presentations are always promising. But how many people do you know with truly networked households? Cable could help change that — especially as more camps lean away from proprietary solutions and toward those depending on Internet protocols. Cable’s IP-based broadband infrastructure — combined with WiFi connectivity within the home — could soon become the bridge to this ambitious future. Will it happen in 2007? We’ll see. MG

[5] COMMERCIAL SERVICES

With cable’s high-speed data and VoIP obsession starting to mature into a regular ol’ business, the idea of tapping into the massive commercial-services market has been gaining steam. The first cheerleader was Cox Communications, but these days many MSOs view those downtown areas as gold mines of dissatisfied telco business customers just waiting for cable salvation. CTAM’s recently reorganized Business Services Forum has been collecting data that has many salivating over new revenue the business market could produce. Look for operators to focus even more on commercial services in 2007. MG

[6] IPTV

Ah, IPTV. That wonderful acronym seemingly loved only by AT&T and a few maverick indie telcos giving it a shot in various markets. Still, AT&T’s IPTV rollout in San Antonio has cable operators scratching their heads. Will it work? Will it scale? Will it break out of Texas? The answers likely will come in 2007 as AT&T indeed plans to extend its Microsoft-powered IPTV platform beyond the Alamo. In fact, the telco wants to pass 19 million homes by 2009. Skeptics may regard 2007 as the test of whether AT&T is really serious. If the year ends with a whimper, it could be hard for Ma Bell to recover its chutzpah. MG

[7] SWITCHED DIGITAL

How is it that we woke up one day, and switched digital video was all the rage? It doesn’t hurt that bigwig techies like Time Warner Cable CTO Mike LaJoie talk it up whenever they get the chance. In fact, the 2006 SCTE Cable-Tec Expo seemed like an SDV appetizer before the big feast planned in 2007. That banquet will either be the year’s best soiree or the party where no one showed up. But one thing’s for sure: The bandwidth efficiencies are stunning (TWC reports 50% savings in the Austin, Texas, SDV test market). SDV may not become widespread in 2007, but it could finally gain the kind of industrywide acceptance that sets the stage for a tipping point. MG




7 in ’07 — The Year Ahead was reported by M.C. Antil (MCA), Simon Applebaum (SA), Shirley Brady (SB), Steve Effros (SE), Michael Grebb (MG), Amy Maclean (AM), Peter D. Shapiro (PDS), and Janet Stilson (JS).

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