Cable Operators

Riding Through Tech Cycles

10/17/2011 12:01 AM Eastern

After 16 years climbing through the cable-tech ranks at Cox Communications, Jay Rolls this
summer packed up and headed to Charter Communications as chief technology officer. Rolls
took over in mid-August for Marwan Fawaz, who stepped down this spring. Rolls, based in Charter’s
Denver office, is an avid cyclist who once rode from Canada to New Mexico along the Continental
Divide. He spoke recently with Multichannel News technology editor Todd Spangler.

MCN: What has been your general first impression of
Charter’s technology organization?

Jay Rolls: There’s a lot of talent here — that’s been nice
to see. Although I did my homework
ahead of time; I wasn’t going to sort of
roll the dice. It’s a very collegial place
to work. There are a lot of comedians
here … there’s some very clever and
funny people.

MCN: Why did you decide to join
Charter?

JR: I looked at the position that was
left behind by Marwan, and Charter
being where it is with its status in the
industry as the No. 4 operator. I will
not deny that the geography played
a little bit of a role, because the Denver
lifestyle is very similar to how my
family and I like to live our lives … I
bike-commuted in Atlanta [to Cox’s
headquarters], which was a bit of a
dangerous activity. I now have a 12-
mile commute that is 90% bike path.

MCN: What have struck you as the
differences between Charter and
Cox?

JR: I would say there’s more commonality
than differences, frankly. It’s very
interesting to see how similar in size
and approach the companies are. The
Charter technology organization is a
little more homogenous. Cox did the
whole merge between IT [information
technology] and engineering [teams].
At Charter, in the past, we were more
resource-constrained, but we’re placing
the right bets in the right areas to
make sure we’re resourced properly.

MCN: Did you speak with Marwan to
get his advice on taking the technology
reins at Charter?

JR: I talked to Marwan — we know
each other very well — but I didn’t
have the need to ask, “Oh gosh, only
Marwan knows where this skeleton is
buried.”

MCN: What technology goals have you set out for the
next 12 months?

JR: Well certainly, our technology is — no surprise —
aligned for the company’s overall strategic goals and
priorities. Those get chunked up into a couple of buckets.
One is enhancing the customer experience, what
our customers actually see and feel when they use our
products. That can range from simplifying how things
work to improving our service reliability, which today is
table stakes.

Second is leveraging our superiority on our Internet
product. Third is evolving and transforming our video
business: continuing our deployment of SDV [switched
digital video], increasing HD and TV Everywhere.
Fourth, we want to drive commercial business growth
and fully capture the business opportunity in the marketplace.
Finally, to that I would add product velocity,
what are we doing to roll out products a lot faster and
more nimbly.

MCN: What is Charter’s current
thinking about delivering multiscreen
video in the home?

JR: We want to do that in evolutionary
steps. These are all the things we have
all been talking about in the industry
for the last year or two. If you split the
home into primary and secondary
screens — all the devices a customer
brings on their own — the question is,
how do we start delivering these various
services to those screens today?

There are even some challenges on the
primary screens, when you look at how
the primary screens are connected. You
may have some that are connected
only to game consoles. How in the future
do I leverage broadband-connected
TVs? We don’t like set-top boxes
conceptually any more than customers
do, from the standpoint of being
capital we have to spend.

MCN: Is there a timeline for migrating
broadcast video to IPTV?

JR: As I said, since it’s an evolution
and there are so many steps in that
process, there’s no date when we wave
the wand. The very first step for us is
TiVo, and leveraging what we can do
with the TiVo rollout to provide enhanced
search, a recommendation
engine and a platform for other IP
apps. That’s beginning later this year.

MCN: Are you considering deploying
DTAs [digital terminal adapters] to
reclaim analog spectrum?

JR: No. I think we’re very comfortable
with what switched [digital video] is
doing for us.

MCN: How will Charter handle the
surge in broadband usage from
Internet video over the next several
years?

JR: It’s minor compared with HD [in terms of the bandwidth required across the hybrid-fiber coaxial spectrum]. That’s always going
to be bigger. If we found we had to do 1 Gigabit [per
second] within the next four years, that’s one thing. But
getting to that is going to take a while. HD is definitely
hungrier than DOCSIS 3.0 right now.

MCN: What do you see as the biggest game-changing
technology developments recently?

JR: It’s the general consumption of video over broadband.
I don’t know if that’s a technology or not. The
most interesting underlying technology is adaptive bitrate
video. Technically it’s probably not that groundbreaking
when you get into the nuts and bolts, but it’s
certainly providing some interesting capabilities.