Cable’s Cloudy Future

Author:
Updated:
Original:

Boston — Ciao, Old Cable: The days of
services being anchored to specific pieces
of operator-supplied hardware are fast
receding.

The industry has moved swiftly to deliver an
increasing amount of content and applications from “the
cloud” — the buzzword du jour that simply refers to any
network-delivered service. (TV Everywhere, available over
any Internet connection, is a cloud service.)

At a high level, the architecture provides several clear
advantages. MSOs can deliver video services to “virtual”
set-tops, which could be tablets or smart TVs, over any Internet-
protocol network. And they can modify their services
— and make changes — far more quickly than with
traditional set-top-based guides.

“The cloud allows you to innovate at a faster pace,” Comcast
Cable president and CEO Neil Smit said, speaking at
the 2012 Cable Show last Tuesday (May 22). “It’s a mix of
technology fueling it and consumers saying, ‘Now that
we’ve gotten that, we want more.’ ”

The cable industry is even virtualizing wireless data access,
with a plan among the top five MSOs to let customers
log in to 50,000-plus Wi-Fi hotspots in public areas across
the U.S. using any mobile device or laptop (see “Wi-Fi Everywhere,”).

Vendors, naturally, are eager to fill the needs of the
video-everywhere providers.

TiVo, for example, introduced a device for its MSO customers
to provide in-home streaming to tablets and smartphones
and “sideload” DVR content to go (see Platforms). And Motorola Mobility was talking up a “DVR
Everywhere” system that would fling recorded content to
devices inside or outside the home, while preserving ad
rules (see page 16).

COMCAST IN THE CLOUD

In a concrete example of how cable is using the cloud today,
Comcast is finally getting its next-generation TV
service — with a spruced-up interface, personalization
features and new interactive apps — out of the clouds and
into customers’ hands.

The operator said here last week that it will launch Xfinity
TV on the X1 Platform, along with a new remote-control
app, starting in Boston and followed by other major markets
in the coming weeks.

The MSO touted the X1 platform — which Brian Roberts
debuted at last year’s Cable Show as Project Xcalibur
— as a “cloud-based” service that combines interactive, customized apps and IP-delivered social-media features
with traditional TV services.

In the past year, the operator has made 400 software updates
to the X1 guide, according to Smit. “We’re no longer
doing a guide once every 18 months,” he said. For example,
according to Smit, with the X1 guide Comcast was able
to add in movie ratings from website Rotten Tomatoes in
about two weeks.

Initially, the X1 service will be delivered using a six-tuner
gateway manufactured by Pace, available to new Xfinity
triple-play customers with HD DVR service at no additional
cost. X1 has a Web-like user interface that provides unified search across TV listings, DVR recordings and VOD,
as well as built-for-TV apps for social networking, music,
radio, sports, traffic and weather.

Comcast will eventually bring the X1 personalized interactive
program guide to nearly 8 million existing settop
boxes and other platforms, including IP set-tops, chief
technology officer Tony Werner said.

The operator plans to deploy the X1 guide and applications
to set-top boxes based on Broadcom’s BCM7420 system-
on-a-chip. The MSO has 7 million to 8 million such
boxes in the field, which conform to its RNG 150 gateway
specification, Werner said, adding, “It remains to be seen
how fast we move on those.”

Comcast is able to relatively quickly bring the X1 experience
to other platforms because of the cloud-based architecture,
Werner noted. The guide uses an “HTML-like”
presentation layer, with the Tru2way specification handling
underlying services. “The real magic is the 65 to 70
systems we built on the back end,” to handle everything
from authentication to personalization, Werner said.

With the launch of X1, Comcast is introducing a new
companion X1 remote-control app for iPhone and iPod
touch devices, which will let users interact with the guide
using gestures — for example, by “swiping” their device to
page through content selections or change the channel. The
app includes a virtual keyboard to search video choices on
their TVs and provides other features.

Comcast will still provide a conventional TV remote with
X1, which the operator said will offer greater responsiveness
and does not require a line-of-sight connection to the
set-top.

Smit said Comcast has a speech-recognition service, currently
in beta, that it plans to introduce with X1 either later
this year or early next.

In a project related to X1, Comcast provided a preview of
a personalized “dashboard” user interface — spanning TVs,
laptops, tablets and smartphones — that combines up-todate
information with customers’ Xfinity TV, voice, Internet
and home-security services.

Code-named Project Dayview, the dashboard is scheduled
to be available to Comcast subscribers later this year.
The service displays alerts, appointments, texts, e-mail,
voicemail and DVR data, and aggregates updates from social
media, news and local information sources for updates
on traffic and weather.

VIDEO ESCAPE ARTISTS

In another cloud-based initiative that promises to further
TV Everywhere, Verizon Wireless and Comcast last week
debuted a new mobile-video search portal dubbed “viewdini.”

Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead, who announced
viewdini at the Cable Show general session last Tuesday
(May 22), said the service will take advantage of the capacity
of the carrier’s LTE network, which covers 258 markets
and more than two-thirds of the U.S. population.

Viewdini will provide video from a range of content providers,
including Comcast Xfinity, Hulu Plus, mSpot and
Netflix. Additional partners, including Verizon FiOS TV,
are expected to be added soon, the company said.

On the panel, Mead said the idea behind viewdini has
been kicked around for about two years, and was spurred
by what Verizon Wireless saw as insatiable demand for capacity.

“We saw the capacity of the LTE network … saw the possibilities,
the hunger of consumers to get this information
whenever, wherever they want,” Mead said.

On the other hand, Verizon Wireless earlier this month
announced that it was eliminating unlimited data-usage
plans. With viewdini promising thousands of video options,
customers may find themselves bumping against
their monthly usage caps in fairly short order.

Vevo president and CEO Rio Caraeff, who also spoke on
the panel, said the future of content — games, movies, TV
and music — is quickly changing. He noted that he may
have scads of content available on his computer hard drive
at home, but it becomes worthless to him when he is out of
the house.

“It’s not about owning anything. It’s about accessing everything,”
Caraeff said. “We’re going through a generational
shift, from a generation that values ownership to a generation
that values access.”

WHO NEEDS A SET-TOP?

Cablevision Systems spotlighted a new app at the show
built using HTML5 and JavaScript technologies running on
Internet-connected TVs from Samsung Electronics and LG
Electronics. The software provides full access to live TV and
an on-screen guide — without any set-top required.

The smart TV demo uses the same interface as the one
the MSO deployed earlier this year for its Optimum App for
Laptop, which allows access to live TV and guide listings
on PCs and Macs. A Cablevision spokesman said there is
“no consumer deployment timetable yet” for the connected-
TV apps.

According to Sam Chang, general manager of LG’s Innovation
Development Group in San Jose, Calif., the app
demo with Cablevision was developed in just a few weeks.

The Cablevision app “uses common Web technologies
to deliver a new user interface, full EPG [electronic program
guide] and secure streaming of live linear TV to the
LG Smart TV, needing only a single authorized cable modem,”
Chang said.

Cablevision currently offers customers in its New York
footprint access to live TV apps for PCs and Macs, as well
as iPhone, iPad and iPod touch devices. To use the software,
a customer must have a subscription to iO TV and a
Cablevision-supplied modem. (If a customer is not an Optimum
Online customer, Cablevision will provide a specialized
modem that allows access to the streaming TV apps
but not the Internet.)

Elsewhere at the Cable Show, in the CableNEXT section of
CableLabs’ CableNet pavilion, Comcast, Time Warner Cable
and Cox Communications showed various TV apps for tablets,
PCs and game consoles (see “Translation Please” in Platforms). In its demo, TWC connected an iPad running its
TWC TV app to two HDTVs via an HDMI cable.

Mike Farrell contributed to this report.

Related