Cable operators are experimenting with new products and services -- remaining paranoid about competitive threats -- while they also see tremendous growth opportunities ahead in commercial services, top technology executives from several leading MSOs said on a panel.
Comcast chief technology officer Tony Werner said the MSO is "investing in and building out, for the lack of a better term, the digital ecosystem." By the end of 2012, Comcast will be carrying virtually no more analog signals in its systems nationwide.
In moving to adopt new technologies, such as HTML5-based interfaces and delivering content from "the cloud," Comcast sees an opportunity to provide video to customers where they want it. The need to regularly refresh products "in days and weeks, not months and years," is driven by a dose of paranoia about competing services, Werner said.
"We were paranoid that the satellite guys would kills us," Werner said. "There were things we were afraid of that we didn't need to be afraid of, and there were things we weren't afraid of that we should have been."
Time Warner Cable CTO Mike LaJoie agreed that some amount of paranoia is healthy, quipping, "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean people aren't out to get you."
LaJoie noted that multichannel video revenue is now less than half of TWC's business now. "That's not because the business is dying, it's because we have more growth in these other products," he said. "The future of multichannel video is robust. There is a programming function that survives. That business is going to continue to grow and to change."
Cable actually has an opportunity to capitalize on new video services, said Nomi Bergman, president of Bright House Networks. She cited the Digital Entertainment Content Ecosystem (DECE) consortium's UltraViolet digital-rights locker that would let an MSO offer a movie for purchase on VOD that could then later be streamed on another device.
"That's a great example of where the technology is there, but I think the business negotiation has to move along at the same time," Bergman said.
Beyond video, cable has opportunities to grow broadband and commercial services, the panelists said.
"This industry invented broadband... Without that invention I think we'd all still be using ISDN," LaJoie said, referring to the Integrated Services Digital network technology deployed by telcos in the 1990s.
With the rise of 4G wireless services, which provide broadband speeds to mobile devices, cable operators are well positioned to expand their wireless-backhaul businesses, LaJoie said. "Everybody talks about the wireless revolution, but the truth is a very, very small percentage of a wireless session travels over the air," he said. "Most of it is over the wire."
Cox Communications CTO Kevin Hart, previously the chief information officer of Clearwire, also noted that the operator's commercial services team is anticipating rapid growth, with wireless backhaul a big piece of that pie.
"Business services are 10%, maybe 20%, of the revenue for any MSO," Bergman said. "There's so much potential for wonderful growth there."
Jim Blackley, Cablevision Systems executive vice president of corporate engineering and technology, was originally scheduled to appear on the panel but was not present.