So, what is are keeping the typical cable CTO up at night. Is it new technology? Competition? Network expansion? Moving content to the cloud? The personalization of the customer experience?

The answer is: All of the above, and more. According to CTOs tapped to wax poetically on their visions for the future, one element resonated right off the bat: building out the digital ecosystem.

“We are going all digital,” said Tony Werner, executive vice president/CTO at Comcast Cable. “By the end of next year, there will be no analog channels in most of our markets.” Going all digital is only part of the mix Comcast is pursuing for the near future. The operator also is working to create a Web-services architecture, to move content and storage into the cloud (“It’s the only way to develop new services in days and weeks, and not months and years,” Werner said) and to sharpen its home-networking skills.

While agreeing with Werner on all of Comcast’s efforts to move to the next level, his counterpart at Time Warner Cable – Mike LaJoie – noted that some of tomorrow’s challenges are the same as those faced in years past.

He ticked them off: “More consumer devices, better networks, making all content work with all devices. Peoples’ expectations have changed a lot. They want content wherever they are plus they want TV.” LaJoie also noted that building out a digital ecosystem will “give consumers what they want even though they don’t want it yet.”

Cable companies know they need to continue to create new and better offerings, but at what price? While acknowledging that Comcast has had a few false starts in the past, Werner discussed where the operator is now. “We started off just delivering core TV,” he said, “and broadband has been a godsend. Video still has legs, but adding such things as Caller ID on the TV screen has been good along with home security and automation. We also like our networked DVR.”

Things Are Looking Up (To The Cloud)

If operators are successful at loading content and storage into the cloud, will it mean subscribers will be able to take it on the road…and at speed? How long will tablet users be chained to the house, instead of watching their subscription services on the bus?

“Technically, we could provide this but, right now, we may not,” said LaJoie, and it all has to do with rights management.
He continued, “As we are able to get the rights to take content out of the house, we will, to add value. This is a business issue and not a technological issue.”

Added Nomi Bergman, president of Bright House Networks, “Another interesting development is digital rights lockers. These would let us offer video on demand (VOD) assets at home, and users could access the locker for rights to watch the content on the road."

A majority of Cox Communications’ business customers are small, perhaps 20 employees or fewer. Moving services to the cloud aids in providing these enterprises with a full suite of services at an affordable price, said Cox Executive Vice President/CTO Kevin Hart.

How Many Channels Do You Really Need?

Ever hear people complaining about all these cable channels but nothing to watch? How many channels can an operator offer? How many channels should they offer? Has a network limit been met?

“We want to offer more choice all the time through presentation and search,” said TWC’s LaJoie. “You can find stuff on linear channels but it takes awhile. Our ability to offer choice, convenience and control will help us win out.”

Bright House’s Bergman added that her network offers 500 channels but that number easily could be doubled or tripled because of the operator’s adoption of switched digital video.

Cellphones & Computers

CTOs cope with subscribers watching content on different devices in different places for different amounts of time, but are cable operators in danger of losing a significant number of eyeballs because of it? It doesn’t appear to be much of a concern.

“We’ve remained paranoid most of our business lives, and it has served us well,” laughed Comcast’s Werner. “I don’t see this as something attacking our core business. It expands the pie. It’s an opportunity.”

And a little paranoia is OK, agrees LaJoie: “We are growing in other areas of revenue over a combination of assets. This industry invented broadband; without it, we’d still be using ISDN. The opportunities outweigh the risks.”

– Debra Baker

The Daily

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