If the day after Labor Day actually kicks off a new year as many people – OK, many teachers and school kids – maintain, this is shaping up as a really interesting year for cable.
In just one week, and barely scratching the surface, cable’s old pals Cisco Systems and Harmonic offered different views on what’s going to be the next best thing in video while a company that hopes to be a new friend to the industry, Verimatrix, jumped onto the scene with what some consider an oxymoronic offering: Cable IPTV.
First, the cable-friendly news: Comcast Interactive Video, Cisco and Adobe Systems are working together – what a surprise – to make sure that Adobe’s Flash streaming content moves across Cisco’s ballyhooed Content Delivery System (CDS) to fill nontraditional screens like PCs and fixed and mobile wireless handheld devices.
In a Cisco-Adobe news release, Sam Schwartz, executive vice president of Comcast Interactive Media, was quoted as saying, "The Cisco CDS combination of traditional content delivery and Adobe streaming technologies in a single high performance solution provides a compelling infrastructure for reliably delivering high quality content to our customers."
That’s PR speak for "we need to get video off the TV and into the PC and cell phone before some other service provider like Verizon figures how to do it and cleans our clocks."
What they want
Paul Bosco, Cisco’s vice president of video and broadband initiatives – and ain’t that a title with job security – was hardly more succinct.
"They (Comcast and other providers) want an evolving architecture that allows them to support the more integrated services, vision or consistent branded experience that they have mentioned as part of a vision or goal," he said. "For a player like Comcast, we have two things we need to be able to do. We have an enormous amount of growth on the PC-targeted Web portal side driven by Flash and Flash streaming with a need to improve responsiveness, content security and scale our ability to deliver that in a meaningful way within the fabric on the IP network. Then we have a strong desire to continue bringing things together so that eventually, end-to-end in the architecture, whether it’s traditional content or user content or pictures or linear or interactive objects, we can increasingly access these pieces of info and entertainment seamlessly in a branded way consistently across devices."
What he meant to say is that Cisco has to figure a way to take Adobe Flash content and move it onto multiple devices via one network and with the appropriate brand – Comcast – splashed all over it.
That, said Jim Guerard, Adobe’s vice president of dynamic media, is what Flash and all its latest iterations, including the new Moviestar release that adds a codec for H.264 (MPEG-4) video and AAC or ACC-Plus audio, is all about: "making sure that we’re allowing content providers and publishers to promote their brands and their companies rather than the Adobe brand or the Adobe company."
Up in the sky, it’s a bird
Harmonic, through an announcement with arch-enemy DirecTV, offered another perspective on how video will play out this year. DirecTV, Harmonic said, will use its DiviCom Electro 7000 high definition MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) encoders for a national high definition channel expansion that will include up to 100 national HD channels by year-end.
Hmmmmmm. Video on any screen or 100 channels of HD on the biggest, most expensive screen the consumer owns? You be the judge there.
Finally, Verimatrix thinks that an OEM partnership with GoBackTV will help it crack the cable IPTV market – as if such a beast exists. Verimatrix will provide the content security that everyone wants integrated into GoBackTV’s "CMTS Bypass" solution that converts an existing cable system into an asymmetric IP network for IPTV services. This, the companies said, lets operators avoid infrastructure upgrades and reclaim bandwidth for new services and, even better, works on DOCSIS 1.1 and DOCSIS 2.0.
"We discovered there are a huge number of smaller cable operators that actually seem to be a little bit stuck in the old realm of analog delivery," said Steve Oetegenn, chief marketing officer at Verimatrix. "This enables you to … turn an analog cable plant into full IP."
The two companies made their announcement at IBC in Amsterdam, but Oetegenn emphasized that this is not necessarily just an international product.
"In the U.S., we have a few dozen so-called IOCs – Independent Operating Carriers – that have telephony, and they’re the local cable operator as well," he said.
Three little things
These guys won’t even have to change out what’s already in their plant, just add three components, a GigaQAM, which provides the CMTS bypass capability; an application server from GoBackTV that communicates with Verimatrix’s security manager and a company-provided VoD server; and the Vermatrix VCAS (Video Content Authority System).
The product, which is now shipping, "wouldn’t be for the big boys. They’re going in the direction of DOCSIS 3.0, and they have completely different plans," Oetegenn said.
All tallied, these three announcements portend a very interesting year for cable, especially if things start to play out the way Oetegenn expects they will.
"IPTV, cable TV, satellite TV, digital TV – all of this is converging, and in the future, in five to 10 years, there will be no IPTV anymore. It will just be pay TV, digital TV delivery," he said.
– Jim Barthold