Cablers Commit to '08 OCAP Rollout

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The cable industry has pledged to three key consumer-electronics partners to have the OpenCable Application Platform widely deployed in systems by the fourth quarter of 2008, at least two years later than operators originally expected.

CableLabs CEO Dick Green said executives from the top U.S. multiple-system operators met with LG Electronics, Panasonic and Samsung Electronics — the three CE makers that have developed OCAP-enabled TV sets — in a trip to Asia last week. The OCAP specification, licensed by CableLabs, provides a standard way for set-tops, TVs and other devices to access interactive cable services like video-on-demand.

The upshot of last week's meetings was a “mutual commitment on both sides to be sure we have [OCAP] available to consumers in the next 18 months,” Green said.

Cable executives who flew to Japan and South Korea on the trip included Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, Time Warner Cable CEO Glenn Britt and Cox Communications president Pat Esser.

Last year was supposed to be the year OCAP took off: At the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2006, cable companies announced a “commitment” to roll out OCAP middleware in headends serving millions of subscribers by the end of the year.

But for now, OCAP is still largely in the testing phase. Comcast, for example, is initiating market trials with OCAP this year. Samsung and Cox said in January that they would “accelerate” their OCAP development work in Cox's Gainesville, Fla., division. Time Warner Cable said digital cable services in its New York City systems went live on Samsung's OCAP-compliant HD set-tops in January, and OCAP rollouts will extend to other cities this year, including Milwaukee.

After years of development and investment, operators are hoping OCAP yields some kind of return in the form of new partnerships and services. Next week, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association's Cable Show in Las Vegas will host a full day of OCAP-related technology and business sessions.

Green said the meetings with LG, Panasonic and Samsung demonstrated that “OCAP is alive and well, and all of the partners are working on assorted demonstrations.”

But the Consumer Electronics Association last November wrote the Federal Communications Commission that its companies want to produce CE devices supporting “basic” interactive cable services “rather than absorbing all the cost and uncertainty associated with OCAP.” Executives from Sony Electronics, Hitachi, Dell, Intel, Microsoft and other firms signed the letter.

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