Industry players debated the future of channel surfing at an IPTV World Forum panel session on Wednesday in New York City, with one executive suggesting viewers will eventually use mobile phones or keyboards to navigate pay TV systems.

"It might be the iPhone that replaces the remote control in your home," said Jeffrey Litvack, GM of mobile and emerging products at the Associated Press. Supplying cable TV subscribers with a wireless keyboard would also make it easier for them to find programming, he added.

But Cox Communications Executive Director, Video Product Development, Lisa Pickelsimer said it may be too expensive to deploy keyboards to cable subscribers, and that it would be difficult for viewers to use a keyboard in a dark room, unless the keyboards were backlit.

"Practically speaking those are expensive devices. Is that a model that would work? I don’t think it does with today’s costs," Pickelsimer said.

Operators could also consider selling the keyboards to subscribers in order to cut costs, but Pickelsimer questioned whether consumers would be willing to buy a keyboard in order to navigate cable programming.

Search vs. navigation vs. legacy

TiVo Senior Director of Technology Joe Weber also questioned whether there would be demand for wireless keyboards that could replace remote controls. Weber also emphasized that viewers are more focused on searching for individual program titles than navigating traditional grids on an interactive program guide.

"People want to start with the content first, instead of the guide or the linear channels," Weber added.

Weber also touted new search functionality available on TiVo’s Series3 DVRs that allows viewers to search for both free and paid content on multiple platforms, including cable and satellite TV systems and the libraries of Netflix and Amazon.

Pickelsimer said "legacy issues and legal issues" have hampered improvement of the user interface that Cox and other cable operators use with their interactive program guides (IPGs).

"What has hampered us in terms of speed is we have this legacy technology where we have 30 different box types and every application we have has to be specifically ported to those box types. There’s no such thing as rapid application development in that sort of environment," Pickelsimer said.

Cox has Macrovision’s Aptiv Passport deployed on cable systems that run Motorola hardware and Cisco’s SARA (Scientific Atlanta Resident Application) IPG deployed on systems running Cisco boxes.

Pickelsimer said Cox is in the process of transitioning systems that currently use SARA to the Passport IPG. She said the company is also developing its own tru2way IPG with technology from NDS, but she didn’t say when that guide would be commercially deployed. (For more on Cox and NDS, click here and here).

–Steve Donohue

The Daily

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