EchoStar’s been singing the praises of its Sling technology for cable for two years, but now, the company is making a concerted effort to win cable business with a new technology ecosystem, dubbed "Aria." (For more on Sling, click here).

Aria is designed specifically for mid-sized and independent cable TV operators. It features cloud-based video on demand (VOD), over-the-top (OTT) TV for multi-screens, and an interactive HD program guide. EchoStar touts the fact that Aria runs on operators’ current cable plant.

"It’s like HITS for OTT," says Michael Hawkey, VP/sales and marketing, EchoStar Technologies, comparing Aria to Comcast’s turnkey digital TV solutions for smaller operators. EchoStar will charge a monthly fee for Aria services.

While EchoStar is debuting the concept of Aria now and explaining its cloud attributes, the technology also will require new hardware – EchoStar SD, HD or SlingLoaded set top boxes. The company intends to show the new boxes at the Cable Show, June 14-16 in Chicago.

Hawkey says the boxes are hybrids that utilize traditional QAM transport for video as well as IP transport for OTT Internet streaming. Operators could either buy the boxes or include the use of their boxes in their monthly fee for Aria.

Deploying EchoStar set tops would be quite a departure for Tier 2 and Tier 3 cable operators who have traditionally been Motorola shops. But EchoStar isn’t the only vendor cutting into the Motorola pie, of late. (For more, see Small Cable Operator Deploys Hosted SDV).

Hawkey says Aria can work with existing conditional access (CA) systems, including Motorola. EchoStar will provide software upgrades, system maintenance and additional premium features throughout the life of the hardware in the field.

For EchoStar, the question remains: Will cable operators be receptive to technology they perceive comes from their satellite competition?

Hawkey is adamant that EchoStar is a totally separate company from DISH Network. EchoStar spun off from DISH in January 2008. However, Charles Ergen remains as Chairman of the Board of both EchoStar and DISH.

Smaller cable operators will be willing to overlook the "Charlie Factor" if the technology meets their demands, predicts Hawkey.

Services that can be delivered as part of Aria include:

  • TV Everywhere, multi-screen any location services;
  • Graphical user interfaces with “skins” branded for the local cable TV operator;
  • Universal search across all of a consumer’s authorized assets, including linear TV, VOD or OTT services;
  • Remote DVR timer setting;
  • All-digital high-definition VOD (utilizing adaptive bit-rate streaming).

In January, EchoStar bought Move Networks, an adaptive streaming and IPTV company, and Move technology is a part of Aria.

Hawkey says there’s a good chance EchoStar will announce at least one cable customer for Aria at the Cable Show.

-Linda Hardesty

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