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Cisco: TV Must Get ’Net

9/20/2010 9:40 AM Eastern

TV providers shouldn’t
fight the Internet — they should
embrace it.

That’s one of the key messages
Enrique Rodriguez, newly
installed as senior vice president
and general manager of
Cisco Systems’ Service Provider
Video Technology Group, is delivering
to the company’s customers.

“The No. 1 thing this industry
needs to understand is, there’s no
way you can match the scale and
the innovation of the Internet,”
said Rodriguez, in his first media
interview since he left Microsoft
to head Cisco’s video group
in June.

To that end, Cisco’s next generation
of set-top boxes will be hybrids
that are “more eloquent” in
providing access to both digitalcable
video services and Internet
content and applications. “It’s
not just bringing the browser to
the television,” Rodriguez added.
“It’s more than that.”

Along with the shift to Webdelivered
applications on TV,
devices will become smaller
and more of the intelligence
will move into the network, Rodriguez
said. Meanwhile, cable
headends will shift away from
proprietary hardware platforms
to more of a mix of special-purpose
equipment and software
that runs on commodity hardware.

“It’s going to be very interesting
to see who is my competitor
— and who is my ally — in the
next few years. I wish I knew what
it will look like,” he said.

Rodriguez, 48, was previously
Microsoft’s corporate vice president
for the TV, video and music
business unit, which includes the
Mediaroom Internet-protocol TV
platform. Prior to joining Microsoft
in 2003, he spent more than
20 years at Thomson/RCA.

He said he’s found the Cisco
video group to be unusually
customer-focused compared
with Microsoft and Thomson,
where the business was driven
more from the product-management
and marketing side. That’s
a good thing, according to Rodriguez,
but at the same time he
sees an opportunity to deliver a
stronger “Cisco viewpoint” on
technology shifts and product
evolution.

“Customers are expecting more
leadership from us, especially
when you see the transition to IP
video,” he said.

The next wave of IP-based TV
services also will be marked by a
mix of devices, networks and services
— many of them “unmanaged,”
Rodriguez said, meaning
they’re not supplied by a cable,
telco or satellite provider. Customers
expect to be able to access
content on any device over
any network (even if it’s outside
an MSO’s footprint) and increasingly
will want to access Web services
and apps created by third
parties.

Does the rise of numerous video-
capable devices, which won’t
need an operator-supplied box,
threaten Cisco’s sales of set-tops?
“Absolutely,” Rodriguez said, “but
it’s not the first time we’ve seen
a challenge to the set-top business.”

Other attempts to marry the
Web and TV, such as Google TV,
will help push the industry to
open up services — and that
should make customers happier,
Rodriguez said. But Web
technologies such as HTML5
will serve as the underlying
platform for running TV-based
applications, he added, unlike
the dedicated operating
systems in the mobile devices
world.

Cisco also isn’t intending to go
direct-to-consumer by selling Internet
set-tops at retail, Rodriguez
indicated: “We’re looking at the
service providers as the center of
gravity of opportunity. They’re in
a very strong position.”

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