Cable operators have gotten over the hump of how many video-on-demand (VOD) streams they can deploy. The next item on the checklist is managing those increasingly massive video libraries more efficiently. A lot of the current asset manager technologies that are available are static in nature, with cable operator employees deciding what the VOD flavor of the day is before moving it "manually" to a location that is closer to the customers. With thousands of video titles and other content available at viewers’ fingertips, many cable operators are using a best-guess approach when it comes to asset placement. MSOs are aware of the need to move beyond guesswork. Several years ago, engineers from Cox Communications unveiled an Intelligent Asset Management System that contained algorithms that addressed this very issue. More recently, operators such as Comcast have talked about moving toward the cache-server heavy, content distribution network (CDN) model pioneered by the likes of Akamai. (For more on these MSO discussions, see links in this week’s Proxy Server.) Advantage Telcos? One interesting point is the extent to which VOD technologies on the telco side of the aisle appear to be a step ahead of the cable industry. That is partly due to the constraints of local exchange carriers whose bandwidth limitations prevented them from populating every server with all available content, as was the practice of MSOs, especially in VOD’s early days. Kasessna is one VOD technology provider with a network management platform-vFusion-that plays to the telcos’ preference for distributed server architectures when it comes to IPTV. Now Entone Technologies has taken the wraps off its asset manager, which it calls Armada. Mark Evensen, Entone’s vice president of product development, says Armada "makes intelligent decisions" on where the VOD content is stored. "It’s (Armada) a software application that is passively listening to what happens in the network, and then it makes decisions about where the content should be moved," Evensen says. "Say there’s a news event that becomes popular; Armada sees the trend and moves the content to the edge servers where it is closer to the customers." The Armada controller server receives information from client software on each video server. The program distributes assets in real time to the most optimal storage, server or network based on usage data. Since viewer behavior can’t always be predicted, Armada makes adjustments to storage assignments so that storage devices are utilized with the right balance of streaming capacity to storage space. Entone says the end result is equilibrium of asset supply and demand that can reduce operating expenses by up to 60 percent. Software and "long tail" content The system could also help cable operators deliver less popular titles and content, which are at the end of the "long tail" of content on a graph, that can be stored on less expensive SATA-based drives. Entone’s Armada system anticipates that random access memory (RAM) will most likely be used as the storage medium for the more popular video assets in a library, but since RAM costs more, other storage options, such as SATA, are more appropriate for long tail content. "What we’re finding is the that the highly popular content, on the left side of the graph, is what typically draws people to your service, but the stuff on right hand side, the long tail, has specific interest to customers, and it’s kind of sticky," Evensen says. "Historically, everything was built to handle the highly popular content on the left side of the graph because they assumed that everything was a first run movie and that it would cost you $6 to watch it." Evensen says research with video servers indicates that customers are willing to pay $12 for an "all you can eat" model of content, which can include music, TV titles and online encyclopedias-all of which can be viewed more than once. Billing issue with cable needs to be overcome Armada is currently deployed with North American telcos and is being trialed with cable operators in Europe. While Evensen anticipates a trial with a North American cable operator before the year is out, there is one hurdle to overcome in the North American cable space. "There’s a bit of an issue with (cable) billing systems," Evensen says. "The billing systems of the last five years for (cable) VOD are a little clunky, whereas the IPTV systems in Europe are more open and flexible with their backend systems. It just means Armada has to spend a little more time (working with North American cable operators)."

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NBCU is moving full speed ahead on its upfront plans for this spring, and it all kicks off with its ONE22 development conference on March 22.

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