Snowmageddon. Snopocalypse. Snoverkill. The mid-Atlantic blizzard, which has already dumped more than three feet of snow in some places and maniacally plans to dump another foot on us today, continues to force manual labor upon the white-collar masses. We must dig out our cars. We must get to Starbucks. Frankly, this is getting Snodiculous.
 
But as we brace for another wave, it’s important to note that CableLabs’ Denver location is—for once—far less snowy than the terrain roamed by its East Coast cousins. And with some tech-minded East Coasters now basking in the relatively sunny, clear skies of Colorado at CableLabs’ Winter Conference (Okay… it’s seven degrees out there, but still…), the rest of us are left back here climbing over 10-foot high mounds of exhaust-blackened snow grudgingly. We’re not bitter. We salute you. For you are forging the future of cable, and without you, we would be nothing. Or something like that.
 
But in all seriousness, some cool stuff is taking place at CableLabs this week. If you read CableFAX Daily’s Tues issue, you know that content search firm Jinni turned some heads with its mood-based search engine. It sounds exotic, and it kind of is. Basically, its search engine allows people to hunt for content based on its emotional resonance rather than an often out-of-context keyword. It’s actually reminiscent of “collaborative filtering,” which created quite a buzz when it first emerged almost a decade ago as a way for companies like Amazon to smartly recommend books you might like. Scores of e-commerce sites use it now—to the point that it’s no longer a novelty. But collaborative filtering is somewhat passive, pushing recommended content to you. Jinni’s idea puts the power in the user’s (or viewer’s) hands. And that’s significant. Sure, this will work on the Internet and help make TV Everywhere more powerful, but it will also work in the TV environment and perhaps help cable finally shed its sketchy VOD navigation experience. Of course, if it works as advertised, Jinni’s tech will certainly find its way to cable competitors as well. So let the arms race for smart packaging and customization begin. Customers are clamoring for a way to navigate those thousands of choices. The company that does it best will reap great rewards.
 
Also in Denver is lots of talk of EBIF, which continues to be one of those insular cable technologies that the rest of the world doesn’t understand but could change TV forever. Advertisers especially are excited because EBIF-powered widgets could make true interactive advertising a fast reality by streamlining the content creation process. In fact, CableLabs and Canoe Ventures just this week issued the latest EBIF spec to give even more options to developers. Also exciting is the launch of EBIF.tv, a Website to make it even easier for developers to get on the EBIF train, but it’s also a place where trade hacks like me (as well as members of the often tech-phobic mainstream press) can increase their EBIF knowledge. Even a layperson, who has heard of EBIF but isn’t quite sure how it will impact the public, can use the site to learn more. Few will take the time, but again—it’s a great resource on a topic that will become increasingly important and pervasive as EBIF apps sneak into consumers’ TVs over the next few years.
 
CableLabs is one of those old-school cable institutions that probably doesn’t get enough ink (or pixels) in a world saturated with technology articles that often gloss over the tough, mind-bending work that takes place in back rooms among engineers, product developers and device makers. It’s messy stuff. And no one enjoys watching sausage get made. But it’s times like these—when snowfall on the East Coast leaves people hostage to their computers and TVs (assuming they haven’t lost power)—that we can all truly appreciate CableLabs’ work over the years to give us broadband, better set-tops and a cooler TV experience. Here’s hoping cable’s tried and true research arm will keep burning the midnight oil so we can all reap the benefits of a more seamless technology universe.

(Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX).

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