Cable's growing interest in the world of consumer electronics will be evident in January, as a cadre of executives will travel to Las Vegas for the International Consumer Electronics Show, being held Jan. 6 to 11.
In addition to HDTV, digital video recorders and video-on-demand, cable operators will be keeping an eye on developments in Internet-protocol video and video home networking.
Both Cable Television Laboratories Inc. and the Cable & Telecommunications Association for Marketing will return with tours for the top-level industry executives represented by their respective organizations.
HD On Hand
CTAM will have the added twist of demonstrating VOD from the SeaChange International Inc. truck in the convention center's parking lot.
"It's a great window into what customers are going to want, what products will be marketed to them and the kinds of ads they will see," Comcast Corp. senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz said of the CES. "It helps you see what innovation companies are focused on and how their strategy plays out."
It's also a chance to chart the future direction of the manufacturers and retailers that cable is already working with, whether through the plug-and-play deal or by selling cable hardware like modems or HDTV sets, Coblitz said.
Cable is now a player at the CES, Coblitz said. "The first time I walked through with [Comcast president and CEO] Brian [Roberts], it was very clear there was no cable presence," he said, recalling a CES trip several years ago. "That began the thinking that with all this innovation, none of it was aimed at cable companies. That led us to meetings with the CEOs of those companies, and that led to the plug-and-play agreement."
Coblitz was referring to last December's accord between seven top MSOs and 14 consumer-electronics manufacturers on standards that will allow digital television sets to have built-in set-top functionality, by use of a CableCARD point-of-deployment module that can be used across cable platforms.
Coblitz also is a key negotiator for cable on the second round of talks, covering two-way-capable CableCARDs. He declined to comment on the progress of those talks.
This year, Coblitz said, "you'll see much cable presence directly, or things CE manufacturers are doing because of plug-and-play. You'll see people who are selling product having something to do with partnerships with cable."
HDTV, IP video, wireless and home networking are among the hot topics for Coblitz.
"The cable industry has grabbed onto to HDTV," he said, and that will be evident with retailers at the show and CE manufacturers who will showcase HD unidirectional TV sets.
Telephone companies are talking about delivering IP video to set-tops, and cable could play in that sphere also, he said.
"I always look at the wireless stuff," Coblitz said. "There are new and innovative services and features, whether it's handheld devices or the integration of multiple types of software."
CTAM's three-day demonstration (Jan. 7 to 9) is part of its "Only Cable Can" public-relations campaign, and will be staffed by members of the trade group's On Demand Consortium.
The demos will be for the benefit of entertainment and lifestyle journalists, said CTAM vice president of communications Anne Cowan. "They can meet some of the players and experience the product," she said.
Comcast vice president of marketing, new video products Page Thompson will serve as spokesman, and he'll be joined by a rotating shift of consortium executives from the hardware vendor and programmer community.
VOD content across all consortium categories — movies, SVOD and basic — will be demonstrated in the truck, Cowan said.
Industry analyst and Multichannel News columnist Leslie Ellis will lead CTAM's day-and-a-half-long CTAM for chief marketing officers, chief operating officers and business-development types, said Seth Morrison, the trade group's senior vice president of marketing. It will be a combination of booth visits and private meetings.
"The focus is understanding what's happening in the consumer space that will affect cable," Morrison said. "A lot of emphasis this year will be on all of the home networking pieces, including network video. We'll be looking a lot at IP video and understanding where that's going as well as a general update on HD."
Many telephone companies have begun making rumblings about IP video, and Microsoft Corp. is a major proponent of that format — especially abroad. "IP video is one piece that news," Morrison said. "Home networking, it seems, has been out there for years but all of the sudden it's blossoming, with the notion of the fully integrated home."
Among the companies the CTAM crowd will visit are Sony Corp., Pioneer Corp., Motorola Inc., Scientific-Atlanta Inc., Thomson Consumer Products and Microsoft.
Tech TV will hold a "best of the best of non-cable products" session, Morrison said.
As for the agenda at the CES show itself, Microsoft chief software officer Bill Gates will open the show with a Wednesday evening (Jan. 7) speech.
Other conference keynoters include Verizon Communications Inc. chairman Ivan Seidenberg; Panasonic president Fumio Ohtsubo; and Real Networks Inc. CEO Rob Glaser.
Cable Exhibitors, Too
Of the 2,000 plus exhibitors at CES, a handful have a cable bent.
On the chip side, Broadcom Corp., Texas Instruments Inc. and Entropic Communications Inc. will have exhibits. Home-networking companies Netgear Inc. and Linksys Group Inc. (now owned by Cisco Systems Inc.) will be on the floor.
VoIP provider Vonage will be in attendance, as will Microsoft and Real Networks.
On the set-top side, Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, Pioneer, Pace Micro Technologies plc and TiVo Inc. will be on hand, as will remote-control manufacturer Universal Electronics Inc.
TV set manufacturers include Sony, Samsung Electronics America Inc., Sanyo North America Corp., Pioneer, Philips Electronics North America Corp., Panasonic and Thomson.
"This is going to be a very exciting show for Motorola," said John Burke, corporate vice president with the company's Broadband Communications Sector. "We'll be bringing to market through a retail portfolio connected home product offerings. They are products enabled or interoperable with broadband connectivity.
"Cable will be interested in the whole portfolio," he added. "The key theme is [whether] they add value or further leverage broadband connectivity."
Motorola will show traditional cable-modem products; home-networking gear to be shared by multiple devices; broadband video phones; wireless e-mail devices; home control and monitoring solutions; and a full range of set-top boxes. "Everything is broadband-network centric," he said.
The set-tops will include plug-and-play ready, CableCARD-enabled set-tops, as well as HD and DVR boxes.
The home-networking gear will consist of 802.11g products with wireless access points and Ethernet switches, he said. Motorola will showcase its VT1000 multimedia terminal adapter for VoIP, which Vonage is using and which won a CES Innovation Award in 2004.
"Cable is very big for us this year, displaying what's happening today, what's coming in the near future and what's down the road a little ways," said Pioneer cable division director of marketing Dan Ward.
Pioneer will be showing its 3510 HD set-top with the Passport Interactive program guide, and its Voyager 4000 HD DVR product. Cox and Time Warner Cable are deploying the 3510; the Voyager 4000 will debut in January.
"Down the road, we'll have our [OpenCable Application s Platform] box and digital, one-way plasma TV," he added.
Pioneer also will exhibit an IP-based box capable of moving video, audio and still pictures throughout the home, Ward said.
S-A said it plans in-booth demonstrations of its Explorer 8000HD home-entertainment server, and also plans to showcase the Explorer 8000 Multi-Room DVR Solution, a home server networked with existing set-tops in the household to enable a multitude of interactive services, ranging from music and games to VOD and SVOD.
There will also be demonstrations of S-A's VoIP capabilities via its PacketCable-certified WebSTAR DPX2203 DOCSIS 1.0 cable modem.
There will be a handful of sessions where cable topics will dominate, including several interactive-TV panel sessions with executives from Game Show Network, the American Film Institute, Showtime Networks Inc., MagRack, Gemstar-TV Guide International Inc., ICTV Inc., Vidiom Systems Corp., OpenTV and GoldPocket Interactive Inc.
There will also be a Friday (Jan. 9) HDTV "content and delivery" panel session with an all-star cast: DirecTV Inc. CEO Eddy Hartenstein; EchoStar Communications Corp. chairman and CEO Charlie Ergen; Rainbow DBS (Voom) chairman Chuck Dolan; Time Warner Cable chairman Glenn Britt; ESPN Inc. CEO George Bodenheimer and HDNet CEO Mark Cuban.