Cable subscribers may not find "stat mux" a very elegant term, but it’s going to make their lives more enjoyable. On the eve of a triple invasion of satellite transponders, telco fiber and the "bandwidth hogs" of VOD and high definition, cable operators are using statistical multiplexing software to feed the consumer’s growing desire for instant video gratification. Convergence comes packaged in many forms, and the Big One that stat mux enables is at the intersection of standard def, hi-def, MPEG4, high-speed access, on-demand viewing and commercial business service, with even ancient analog in the mix. Cable operators have to deal, simultaneously, with the rapid arrival of the new and the slow departure of the old. Preparations for that future have already begun, with the transition to simulcast (transmitting all programs in digital and analog form) and to switched broadcast video (shifting bandwidth to the most-viewed channels instead of allocating equal spectrum for all). But this has only been a warm-up for the tsunami of demand ahead. The flood includes waves of targeted ad insertion—just ripples on the surface now—as product packagers follow the streaming with segmented marketing. Video producers and distributors—sports leagues, movie/TV studios, broadcast TV networks and stations, cable and satellite operators and telcos—are shifting from force-feeding to satisfying a need of the viewing public, and the nation’s advertisers. The word "download," when describing video distribution, is an understatement. The headlines have focused on the content itself, but little note has been taken that to deliver it to a world hooked on screens, suppliers need to widen the electronic roads. My bet is the average user thinks the word "fiber" alone is sufficient to satisfy demand. It’s not, and that’s where stat mux comes in, helping to change a more limited constant-bit-rate transmission to a more flexible variable-bit-rate mode. Companies like BigBand Networks, C-COR, Harmonic, RGB Networks, Tandberg TV, Terayon and Vyyo vary in their approaches to increase channel capacity by 50% or more for cost savings—versus investment in more pipe—on an order of magnitude up to 10. BigBand, for example, is reshaping spectrum in 20 million homes for seven of the 10 largest MSOs. Next up to bat: Imagine Comm., a San Diego firm that announced May 1 $9.2 million of A-round financing (from Columbia Capital of Alexandria, Va., and Carmel Ventures of Israel). It is focusing on hi-def/VOD "killer apps for operators" that will excite the public while squeezing bandwidth. Imagine calls its solution "PersonalizedTV" because, in the words of SVP, marketing and business development, Marc Tayer: "Operators increasingly will not be sending streams on schedule; it will be the consumers who demand the streams whenever they want them." Analyst/investor Paul Kagan is chairman/CEO of PK Worldmedia, Inc. in Carmel, Calif. He owns shares of the privately held BigBand Networks and publicly traded C-COR, Harmonic and Tandberg TV. Information in his columns is not intended to be a recommendation to buy or sell securities.

The Daily


FTC Finds ISPs Collect Troves of Data

The FTC presented a staff report Thursday, declaring that many ISPs collect and share far more data about their customers than many consumers expect.

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