Cable operators can embrace the modern gadget culture or be left behind. With that in mind, we’ve looked into our crystal ball for cable-focused gadgets that might emerge to make operators all-purpose players for media-hungry consumers. More important, they present new revenue potential for cable operators. The Mobile Remote: Philips’ space-age Pronto universal remote has been turning heads for some time. Why not amp it up? The idea of a universal remote that doubles as a mobile handset is already being developed. Consumers could watch or control their cable service from anywhere—paying a monthly fee for the privilege—all while making phone calls or accessing the Internet from the same device. This controller could even include Global Positioning System capabilities. Branding and advertising/marketing opportunities abound. The Personal Media Server: Imagine an Internet-enabled repository located at the cable head-end that’s able to remotely store digital video recordings, personal photos/home movies, multiplayer games and other data. Such a server could enable cable customers to use their mobile gadgets to access content from anywhere. And they would have easy on-demand access to content and services while at home (without worrying about hard-drive space on the PC or DVR). Cable operators could charge monthly fees for different storage levels. The Super Set-Top Box: As the cable industry and CE manufacturers finally work out their differences, set-tops could become more complex. For a price, consumers might buy a set-top that doubles as a cable modem, VoIP telephone, gaming device, stereo/home theater receiver and even a comprehensive home networking or Wi-Fi hub. Such convergence could spur new revenue streams. Pie in the sky? Perhaps, but the core technology for most of these products already exists. And as consumers become learned gadgeteers, MSOs could turn their widget-loving ways into a lot of green. As the modern world evolves into an IP-based ecosystem, consumers will increasingly access media from anywhere at any time. Video iPods, sophisticated mobile devices and other portable gadgets are multiplying by the hour. Meanwhile, everyday consumers are brimming with expectations that their new toys will work seamlessly with everything else. This newfound mobility raises the question of how cable operators—traditionally the kings of stationary, linear entertainment within the home—are going to evolve. For MSO execs, who are just now wrapping up a decade-long adventure upgrading their networks for digital services, the simple reality is that their work is far from done. Michael Grebb is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who specializes in technology and media trends. He can be reached at Cablegrebb@aol.com.

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