Cable's OCAP Wish List

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Las Vegas — As the nation's cable operators move inexorably toward implementation of new interactive services using the Open Cable Application Platform, cable executives say they are still unclear on what key applications they would like to run utilizing the standard.

They are sure, though, they want to deliver enhanced TV services that end users can exploit with the same ease as watching analog television. And they want OCAP application developers to know that.

“We see a lot of companies with cool applications, but we have limited resources,” Mike Hayashi, senior VP of advanced technology and engineering at Time Warner Cable, said during a panel session at The Cable Show. “I just want an application that runs!”

The wish lists of other major operators: Comcast wants applications that work across all set-top boxes, said James Mumma, director of iTV product development; and Cox Communications would like programs that are simple to run and can be integrated across platforms, said Chris Bowick, Cox CTO and senior VP of engineering. Those integrated programs would allow Cox to make video, voice and data products more meaningful, stickier to subscribers, while making customers lives' simpler, Bowick added.

The executives made their comments to application developers during a panel on OCAP deployment Sunday at The Cable Show.

CableLabs and the NCTA put a major emphasis on OCAP here, scheduling 11 educational sessions on the topic Sunday and Monday. This session, on MSOs' OCAP objectives, was moderated by Leslie Ellis.

Some interactive products are already in consumer homes. Bright House Networks customers in Tampa and Orlando now look to their televisions for caller IDs when they hear the phone ring, as an example. That application, along with others in the field, will be ported to run on OCAP set-tops and digital TV sets, said Arthur Orduña, senior vice president of policy and product for Bright House parent Advance/Newhouse Communications.

Every time they look at that TV, the product reminds consumers they subscribe to Bright House “because we do cool stuff,” said Orduña.

“We need you to work together to tell us what OCAP can do,” Orduña told developers. “My job is to be amazed by your creativity … I've yet to see a push-the-envelope app.”

The operators represented on the panel are making strides in OCAP equipment and software deployment. Cox is trialing “OCAP Onramp” technology, providing enhanced services in two markets with Java programs to legacy set-top hardware, according to Bowick. The trial will expand to five markets by the end of the year with a goal of national deployment in 2008.

Bowick said Cox is close to delivery of video mosaics, games and caller ID on TV with call disposition (sending calls to another number).

Cox is also working on an interactive version of the Music Choice digital music service.

Seventy percent of Time Warner's customers are served with Scientific Atlanta set-tops, while about 30% use Motorola hardware, Hayashi said, so the company is focusing on OCAP capability using the SA hardware first. This week, Cox takes delivery of SA OCAP-compatible DVRs, he said. After July 1, the company's purchases will all be OCAP capable.

Comcast is doing OCAP technical trials in Denver; Philadelphia; Union City, N.J., and Boston using multiple architectures, said Mumma. Those test results will be used to “spring board us” into other markets later this year.

One thing OCAP capability isn't likely to prompt: Internet browsing via the TV. Even with cable modems embedded in boxes and set-top gateways in place, web browsing doesn't seem like a business, executives said.

Cable companies will more likely use the interactive communication capability to improve communications over their own networks, they said.

The executives said the biggest opportunities for program developers are bound applications — enhanced content bound to currently showing television programming, for instance — and in creating programs that break down silos so applications can link various products in the bundle.