SCTE Member Since 1975 Title: CEO and Chairman of the Board of OpenTV Broadband Background: CTO Time Warner Cable and president, Mystro TV. Chiddix was inducted into the SCTE Hall of Fame at this year’s Cable-Tec Expo in Orlando. On the CEO panel at Cable-Tec Expo, you said that sex and gambling would always be top interactive TV draws in some markets, but that many applications can be very pedestrian. Could you elaborate?"We’ve got customers around the world who make some pretty creative use of interactive television for customer care of various kinds, and some of them believe that it saves them enormous amounts of money, in terms of phone calls and paper billing costs. And my little sales pitch is the reason that they’ve been able to develop such applications easily and change them easily and link them into other systems is because of the middleware technology and the various tools that we offer. In some cases, they’ve developed these things themselves, and some cases, we’ve developed the applications for them under contract. But the common thread is the middleware that allows these applications to run on all of their set-top boxes." What kind of specific applications?"Some operators allow bill presentment, and bill payment with a credit card on the TV screen. There’s even one large direct broadcast satellite company whose default bill delivery system is the TV screen. You’ve got to send in a paper request if you want a paper bill." What about FAQs?"A number of our customers have FAQs. In some cases you can add services—tiers or channels—and in at least one case that service can actually present a 30-second video on demand when somebody is considering whether to add a premium channel. So it’s possible to have not only text pop-up, but to summon videos for tutorial purposes or sales pitches around the issue that the subscriber is trying to deal with." Why have such applications been limited in North American cable? "It’s my own view that it’s hard to build such applications and integrate them into the other applications that are there. It’s even risky. Adding an application to legacy set-tops in the cable industry involves integrating them with all the other applications that are running. There have been very dramatic cases where they didn’t quite get it right and have brought down the entire system, all the digital customers, for some period of hours. It’s tricky stuff. And this is one of the arguments for having this kind of a middleware, software platform for interactive applications. Is OCAP sufficient?"Well, OCAP doesn’t exist yet, and OCAP is not contemplated to run on the existing legacy set-top boxes. But, yes, the OCAP story is that someday it will be a middleware platform that will be ported to a variety of hardware devices and will allow applications to be written quickly, once tools are available, and prevent the kind of problem of conflicts between applications. But that’s well in the future. And it’s irrelevant with regard to the boxes out there." What about using the PC as the interactive mode for customer care?"I would hope that providers would do that, as well. But, of course, the question is how many of your customers are really going to interact that way. And isn’t it nice, when you’re trying to sell someone an upgrade or answer their questions about the TV, to let them do it very simply on their TV screen." So PC for data and TV set for video? "Well, if I were managing a cable system today, I’d want to have a powerful Web site to let people know as much about any of their accounts as they would like. Because it saves a lot of money, and it’s easy for people. It means having fewer CSRs. Each time you give customers a way to satisfy themselves without a call, you’ve made a ton of money. With the one exception: obviously, you don’t want people to be able to just go online or onto their TV screen and downgrade their service. There, you want a human to try to save the downgrade." So the more methods the merrier?"Make it easy. Incorporate video as much as possible, again to make it easy and to take advantage of the medium." And you have the tools to do this now?"Yes. We can link into the operator’s VOD server, to pull down VOD snippets, as part of this experience. We’ve got the triggering mechanisms, as people are going through to menus that can be used to summon video, or to bring up new information about their account. There’s tremendous flexibility about what can be built with these tools." As well as links into back offices? "Yes, those exist in all these cases. Now obviously, somebody is going do work to link into a billing system, whether it’s the IT department of an operator, or the billing vendor or a third party that provides interfaces like N2Broadband (http://www.n2bb.com) or others. Yes that is part of the process.
Over existing infrastructure, set top boxes? "Yes. Existing set-tops. These are all services that are probably deployed to millions of customers, outside North American cable."
And inside North American cable, will this work on the DCT 2000 class? "We are in the process of porting our full middleware onto the DCT 2000 and the SA Explorer 2000 class and up. But we do have solutions that are ready today to do some of these things. Actually, Charter has some of our interactive technology. They’re communicating special offers, and subscribers can register shopping and billing information. And they do have how-to screens that their customers can pull up, and viewers can see their order history." What about other companies in this space. Microsoft? Liberate? "Microsoft wants to be in this business, yes. I understand Liberate is in Chapter 11. This was part of their dream, I’m sure. They failed to get scale." What about those doing a sort of mini-OCAP? Does that approach holds much promise?"I don’t think it’s nearly as compelling an approach as having a tested, stable software environment with development tools, the kind of thing that we sell. Nothing is technically impossible. So three guys in a garage can cobble together an application and given enough time can make it work and make it work on a set-top box. But I don’t think that’s a particularly attractive approach for operators." Congratulations on your induction into the SCTE Hall of Fame. "Thanks very much. That was very touching, although I got the impression that it’s an award to get when you’re been around the industry too long. It was very nice. I appreciated it." – Jonathan Tombes