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In the weeks before Charter Communications wrapped up its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, the operator was well down the road of identifying who will lead New Charter across key areas, including technology.
The new structure of the MSO offers some insights into Charter’s technology plans going forward, but still leaves some questions unanswered, including its future plans involving the Reference Design Kit (RDK), the preintegrated software stack that’s been managed by Comcast, TWC and Liberty Global.
Leading New Charter’s technology organization is Jim Blackley, the former Cablevision Systems exec who joined Charter in 2012, reuniting him with former Cablevision chief operating officer and current Charter CEO Tom Rutledge.
Per a memo distributed internally in March and obtained by Multichannel News, Blackley noted that the MSO’s new tech organization would consist of seven departments: Information Technology, Advanced Engineering, Software Architecture, Software Development, Technology Services, Chief Scientist and Wireless Technology.
“My goal over the next 18 months is to consolidate all of the Advanced Engineering, Technology Services, Software Architecture and Software Development in Denver,” Blackley wrote, adding that Denver will also serve as the hub for the MSO’s Product Development organization. Blackley added that Charter’s IT division currently resides in St. Louis and will retain a “significant” presence there as well as in Charlotte, N.C.
At the time, Blackley also identified several executives who will report to him and lead the new technology organization at Charter:
• Jay Carlson was named senior vice president and chief information officer, information technology, heading up the design, development, testing and operation of IT.
• Jay Rolls will serve as senior vice president and chief technology officer, advanced engineering. for Charter.
• Jake Perlman, late of Bright House Networks, is to serve as senior vice president of software development, responsible for agile software development for customer-facing features, systems and products.
• Marti Moore, vice president of technology services at the combined company, is to head up integration planning, cross-functional program management and integrated release management and testing for “large, complex technology programs.”
• Craig Cowden, another former Bright House exec, is staying on in a newly created role of senior vice president, wireless technology. Cowden is on board to oversee Charter’s wireless and WiFi Advanced Engineering Team.
Blackley’s memo also named Rob Martell as New Charter’s senior vice president of software architecture. However, Martell is no longer with Charter, the operator confirmed. Charter has yet to announce who will take that role.
Charter declined to comment beyond the content contained in the information distributed internally a few weeks ago.
Blackley also identified other key roles in the new technology group that were still open, including a senior vice president of advanced engineering — TWC, who will head up network data and voice engineering capabilities and engineering for new network and product technology; and an SVP and chief scientist who will head up research and development for future data, video and voice products and oversee the MSO’s patent review and application process.
LINGERING RDK QUESTIONS
Before the deal closed, Charter had been clear about its plans for video: It intends to extend the strategy underway in its legacy markets to the newly acquired TWC and Bright House systems. The plan there, in part, is to roll out a new cloud-based guide on older, non-IP set-tops as well as new IP-capable “Worldbox” devices that run a downloadable video security platform.
A good portion of that work centers on a cloud-based platform from ActiveVideo, a vendor that is now owned by Arris and Charter via a joint venture formed in mid-2015. That set-up will also help Charter complement its core pay TV service with integrated over-the-top services.
Charter’s plan also centers on the use of two-way, interactive set-tops at every outlet, and the company plans to phase out one-way Digital Transport Adapters (DTAs) that Time Warner Cable deployed to accelerate its all-digital transition.
Charter’s current plan of attack with video opens up the question of whether the MSO will lend its support to the RDK, which creates a unified stack for IP-capable set-tops and gateways and, more recently, for broadband modems and gateways.
RDK Management, the entity that manages the stack, is run by a joint venture of Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Liberty Global. TWC’s position in the venture transferred to Charter via the acquisition.
Charter confirmed last year that it had licensed the RDK and had established two parallel development tracks: one that centers on its current technical approach and another based on the RDK.
Charter did not comment further on its current RDK plans. But multiple industry sources said the MSO is more interested in supporting RDK-B, which focuses on broadband devices, than it will be for the video-focused RDK-V, in part because the operator is wary of having to support too many different varieties of set-top boxes.
But if Charter decides not to pursue an RDK strategy at the set-top level, it could miss out on the scale benefits that such a strategy could provide.
Comcast and Liberty Global, the world’s largest cable operators, are of course firmly on board with RDK, but so is Cox Communications, which has licensed X1 for the next generation of its “Contour” video platform for set-tops and mobile devices. Shaw Communications has also licensed X1, but has limited its early use to a mobile app. Even a telco, CenturyLink Communications, has said it was evaluating RDK for a new video platform that’s under development.
Heading into the recent INTX in Boston, RDK Management announced that more than 15 million devices were running the RDK, and that about 275 multichannel video programming distributors, consumer electronics manufacturers, chipmakers, software developers and systems integrators had licensed the RDK. As a subset of that group, more than 25 cable, satellite and telco service operators around the world have licensed it, though not all have committed to deploying it.