Whether you’re a cable operator, telco or over the top provider, the race is on to get personal, customizable video content across various devices.

One of the sessions at last week’s SCTE Conference on Emerging Technologies drew a bead on how to create personal TV experiences for subscribers. The session with the rather cumbersome name of "My Videos, Your Videos, Our Videos: The Future of TV Service Is Personal, Customizable and Shareable" gave panelists the opportunity to expound on just how the "any video, to any device at any time" strategy can reach fruition.

Moderator Yvette Gordon-Kanouff, who is SeaChange International‘s vice president and chief strategy officer, noted that cable does have an advantage over some of the contenders in this space since the industry is already addressing issues such as digital rights management and conditional access, and "we have the ability to create communities." Gordon-Kanouff also said during the session that cable needs to work on standards, interfaces and common platforms.

Building communities was a recurring theme during the session. Brian Kahn, an engineering manager with SeaChange, said television needs to be personalized so that subscribers can not only watch what they want when they want, but also share videos or slideshows of town hall meetings, high school athletic events or other types of content.

Instead of using a home media center that requires a media adapter, routers and other gear, Kahn said a network media center Web site with shared QAMs and centrally located content would be less costly and easier for subscribers since they wouldn’t have to do the configurations themselves.

"It would be a simple Web site that pushes this (content) to a set-top box as well," Kahn said. "It brings more opportunities to blend TV and the Web and creates a service beyond the triple play that is more interactive." Gamers as assets Darren Schueller, the technical director for NTN Buzztime, said cable operators have a unique opportunity to deploy community-based gaming services to their customers.

"Players with digital assets that are developed over time become attached to them and don’t want to lose them," he said. "The key to attracting players is the idea of persistence. When a person can play a game and have a piece of that world, then that person feels as though he owns that piece of data."

Schueller said the industry needs to focus on standardization, common infrastructure tools and common service layers such as OCAP.

"We’ll have millions of players across the country, with Cox players trashing Comcast players and Time Warner Cable players trashing both, in a single universe where people are communicating and interacting," Schueller said. "These goals come with one key, and that’s a multiple platform that can support a game on a phone, a TV, and a PC. Virtual communities are excellent retention tools because a player won’t give up a 40th level Elvin warrior to go to satellite." Playlists key to browsing Time Warner Cable’s Glen Hardin, who is senior director, video systems, advanced technology group, said content similar to iTunes, Blockbuster and Netflix can be tied into the divisions.

"We can create a paradigm of browsing the Internet to create a playlist application on the set-top box," Hardin said. "If we extend this further, we have it in divisions. Now I can create storage in east/west locations and get content from a national service instead of a local. The fulfillment is faster than Netflix."

"One step farther is browsing and sorting. First the CPU is in the set-top box; next it might be in a DVR, which may help service group constraints."

Hardin said the cable industry could also point content across other devices by a USB port in a set-top box.

"The failure point in our system isn’t the network; it’s how to present the bundle to the user," Hardin said. " I don’t think it has to be the set-top box; it could be ‘browse the Web and direct it to their homes.’"

The key, according to Hardin, is getting the applications to work with legacy set-top boxes as well. Hardin said the playlist was the "killer app" for low-end boxes to organize a Web home page and the top-10 VOD hits, and the Web is the way to direct the content down.

Steve Calzone, Cox’s principle systems architect and a co-author with Schueller on one of the session’s papers, said Cox has deployed interactive TV services such as viewing and paying bills, and reading emails, and it’s working on letting customers send emails as well.

"We’re also working with Buzztime and others to put together a backoffice system that will allow us to share information across a national footprint," Calzone said. "We want someone on a PS3 (PlayStation 3) to be able to play someone on a set-top box. It may just be checkers to start with, but we have to solve the simple problems first." – Mike Robuck

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