Well, the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas is finally over, and the hoards of gadget-crazy geeks have flown back to their lairs. Cable execs increasingly hit CES in search of trends that will drive new business (or threaten to steal business). Here are notes on CES ’07’s major themes…

Flexibility – Is content flexibility now king? Motorola’s "Follow Me" and Cisco/S-A’s "Connected Home" concepts envision content portability throughout the house and beyond. That’s good, considering Microsoft chairman Bill Gates unveiled several features in the new Vista operating system that give consumers unprecedented power (including improved PC-to-XBox360 networking capability). Meanwhile, Apple chairman Steve Jobs unveiled the iPod/cell phone at the concurrent MacWorld, as well as an "Apple TV" console that also serves as a media hub. Cable operators can lead or follow. The two big set-top vendors seem ready to help.

Portability – Qualcomm finally announced content deals for its "MediaFlo" wireless TV service (a kind of mini-cable system for cell phones). Among takers were Viacom cable staples MTV, Comedy Central and Nickelodeon. Will consumers bite? Who knows, but cable should keep an eye on this as MSOs prepare their wireless push in 2007.

HDTV – CES’ near-obsession with increasingly larger HDTV sets (Sharp unveiled a 108-inch model, making standard 42-inch screens seem merely "midsize") suggests there’s no turning back. These massive screens simply make standard-definition programming look awful. And that means HD quality is no longer just a luxury. MSOs that don’t devote more capacity to HD risk losing subs to DBS and telco competitors [see also Editor’s Note, page 4].

Interactivity – The industry has been here, done that. So? It’s time to do it all over again. Several CE vendors, including Samsung and Panasonic, demoed set-tops and even HDTVs adhering to CableLabs’ OpenCable Applications Protocol (OCAP) specs. That finally means interactive apps can ride on top of the same platform, so developers don’t need to write a million different apps for the myriad set-tops out there. Interactivity’s addition to home shopping, advertising and other areas could mean new MSO revenue. Comcast is deploying Panasonic’s OCAP boxes this year. With telcos closing in, it’s not a moment too soon.

Social TV – CES seems to devote more panels and exhibit space to the user-generated content phenomenon every year. But this year included a strange new entrant: MediaZone, a self-described "global online broadcaster" that unveiled an Internet-based cable service of sorts where users/viewers can interact with linear streams of professionally produced video. It’s like a cable service for the Web. Consumers may yawn, but with Microsoft and Apple enabling easy Web video transfer to TV sets, this is a trend worth watching

CES TRENDS TO WATCH
Good for Cable Bad for Cable
Source: CableWorld
Flexibility Cable vendors ready So are Apple & Microsoft
Portability Wireless begets new revenue Services like MediaFlo represent potential competition
HDTV Consumers love it Bigger screens mean cable must devote more space to HD
Interactivity Could generate revenue & retention Telcos rushing to get there first
Social TV User – generated trends strengthen customer relationship Over – the – top Web players anxious to compete

Michael Grebb is executive editor of CableFAX Daily. He can be reached at mgrebb@accessintel.com.

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