Charter Communications Inc. broadened its VOD vendor list last week, when it said it had spent the last several months installing nCUBE Corp. VOD servers alongside Diva Systems Corp. gear in six markets.
The nCUBE deal is Charter's second vendor announcement over the past six weeks. The St. Louis-based MSO signed a similar Diva-replacement deal with Concurrent Computer Corp.
"This agreement with nCUBE builds on our strategy of working with multiple vendors while also delivering state-of-the-art entertainment to our customers," Charter CEO Carl Vogel said in a statement.
Charter began searching for alternative VOD-equipment solutions late last year, after Diva's financial problems came to light.
Last week, Charter said it installed nCUBE equipment in Birmingham, Ala.; Fort Worth, Texas; Newtown, Conn., and Glendale, Long Beach and Pasadena, Calif.
In those markets, Charter has deployed Scientific-Atlanta Inc. Explorer 2000 set-top boxes.
Charter also is using nCUBE's nABLE on-demand management system, as well as software from nCUBE that allows the operator to customize its user guides.
Charter has installed Concurrent gear in Motorola-based systems in Asheville, N.C.; Duluth, Ga.; Greenville/Spartanburg, S.C.; Hickory, N.C.; Slidell, La., and St. Louis.
"We started at the end of last year with a full industry analysis of all the VOD suppliers," Charter vice president of corporate development Jim Henderson said.
Final decisions on Concurrent and nCUBE were made in February, he said. The first servers started arriving in March.
"We did the necessary work to get the system ready," Henderson said, by addressing transport, powering, space and billing and operational integration with the new servers.
Over the past month or so, Charter has gradually recreated the content on its Diva servers on the Concurrent and nCUBE platforms. The new Hollywood movies that are now arriving at Charter systems will be encoded for both of its new platforms.
As of last week, Charter's VOD subscribers were still accessing content from Diva servers. The operator's content relationship with Diva ends on June 30.
"We can start the changeover now," said Henderson. "We're not going to wait until end of the month."
Late last fall, Diva said it would exit the VOD-content business. Since then, Charter has negotiated directly with major studios, basic cable networks and premium networks for on demand programming, Henderson said.
Charter is still working to replicate some of the children's and-special interest product Diva assembled, he said.
"We're confident we'll get the content we need," said Henderson.
Charter has discussed obtaining content from third-party aggregators In Demand LLC, TVN Entertainment Corp. and Intertainer Inc, he said. It's also negotiating directly with Home Box Office, Showtime Networks Inc. and Starz Encore Group LLC for subscription VOD content.
"We're planning on some SVOD trials to test pricing," Henderson said.
All told, Charter is looking to put 150 to 170 titles on its servers, and growing from there, Henderson said.
Charter subscribers will see some changes in their VOD interface. In Motorola markets, subscribers will first see the standard TV Guide Interactive interface; they'll see Concurrent interfaces as they drill deeper into the VOD application.
GUIDES ON TAP
S-A markets will employ the vendor's embedded SARA guide with features from nCUBE. But Henderson said Charter continues to talk to Gemstar-TV Guide International, which is acquiring Diva, about incorporating features that aren't being replicated elsewhere.
For the short-term, Charter will continue to distribute content on digital-loop tape during the server transition, Henderson said. But with SVOD on the drawing boards, "we are looking at satellite-delivery technology," he said.
Two weeks ago, Diva filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and said Gemstar-TV Guide agreed to buy software and technology assets as part of a pre-packaged bankruptcy arrangement.
Henderson said Charter may try to salvage some of the Diva equipment, but the proprietary nature of the server gear may prevent much of that from happening.
The network transport and other gear Charter installed for VOD should be fine, he added. "We're reusing that," he said. "That won't go to waste."