Liberty Global CEO Mike Fries, speaking at the opening session of Cable Congress 2010 in Brussels, said his company was planning to deploy an IP-based home gateway “sometime next year.”

The Europe-focused super MSO is riding favorable cost curves in doing so.

“(The home gateway) is going to cost us the exact same we were paying a year ago for an HD-DVR,” Fries said. “It’s not going to break the bank, and it’s actually going to simplify the home.”

What Liberty is getting for this constant amount of CapEx is a lot more than an HD-DVR. Fries listed six tuners, a built-in modem and Wi-Fi functionality among its added features.

Fries said this investment in consumer premise equipment (CPE) is part of Liberty’s efforts realizing the “upside” to increased digital penetration, which currently stands at about 33 percent (or 5 of 15 million) of its video subscriber base.

It also dovetails with Liberty’s enthusiasm for ultra high-speed Internet. On the panel, Fries said the rate of return on a migration from 8 Mbps downstream to 100 Mbps downstream was “phenomenal.”

ARRIS CEO Bob Stanzione agreed with Fries on the potential of a home gateway to simplify the life of the consumer.  “There’s usually only one person who know which HDMI hookup has which device,” he said.

Yet simplicity may not be so simple to implement. Asked over what media the gateway would network, Fries said, “Over coax, wireless…”

Woops. To be sure, standard plug-and-play (UPnP) and auto-discoverable technologies have matured, but “n” number IP-based devices multiplied by two (or more?) home networking options could yield a large number of permutations.

Whatever combination of technologies resides within the home gateway (and several are under consideration across the industry), the offensive thrust of such a device is clear. “Our opportunity to co-opt is tremendous,” he said. “(We could) do to online video what we did to TiVo.”

Moreover, Fries tried to deflate some of the hype that surrounds over the top (OTT). “It’s not moving nearly as fast…as journalists like you to believe,” he said.

Yes, the numbers are “huge,” but the quality of engagement (measured in minutes) is “not that great.”

Fries and Discovery President and CEO Mark Hollinger, who keynoted an afternoon session, agreed that the TV continues to dominate the home.

“Original compelling content and brands remain key to success,” Hollinger said. The TV experience is both central and evolving, with Discovery’s planned launch in first quarter 2011 of a 3D-TV channel being one example.

International programming is another opportunity for growth. Not in the cards for Discovery, however, is posting large amounts of premium content on the Internet.
“So far we have really steadfastly refused to put our long-form content on broadband,” Hollinger said.

That begs the question of what is destined for online distribution. During the first session, ARRIS CEO Stanzione held one intriguing answer in his hand: a 3D-enabled handheld video recorder (that sells for less than 500 Euros).

Sharing massively large 3D files of family events? That could spell business for a company with solid answers to the industry’s upstream throughput challenge.

-Jonathan Tombes

The Daily


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