Charter Communications’ proposed acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks have created a pile of questions as to what the deals will mean for a consolidating cable industry — from distributors to programmers on down to suppliers.
Another big one on the video and technology front is: What will the deal do to the momentum established by the Reference Design Kit (RDK), the preintegrated software stack for set-tops and gateways currently being managed by Time Warner Cable, Comcast and Liberty Global?
For its part, Charter has made it abundantly clear that it plans use the acquisitions of TWC and Bright House Networks to expand the reach of its next-generation video strategy, which features the Worldbox, a new Internet protocol-capable set-top and gateway system that will operate a new downloadable security platform, and the Spectrum Guide, a cloud-based interface that will be made to run on Charter’s new IP devices as well as millions of already-deployed quadrature amplitude modulation-only set-tops.
Charter has not yet deployed the Worldbox, but it has been testing the Spectrum Guide in Fort Worth, Texas, and has expressed plans to try it out in markets such as Reno, Nev., and St. Louis.
Charter has yet to pull the trigger on an RDK-focused technology strategy, but has left the door open to it, should it decide to move in that direction later on.
Stamford, Conn.-based Charter confirmed that it has licensed the RDK and has established two parallel development tracks: one that factors in its current technical approach and one that also includes the RDK. Charter hasn’t committed to deploying the RDK, but an official said the MSO is open to applying it where it makes sense.
That could be good news for pay TV providers that are interested in driving more economic scale into products that use the RDK.
RDK Management, the MSO-run joint venture, announced in May that 220 companies have licensed the stack. That group, which involves a mix of CE manufacturers, chipmakers, software developers and system integrators, also includes about 25 pay TV providers. In addition to Charter, known cable-operator licensees include Comcast, TWC, Liberty Global, Canada’s Rogers Communications, Kabel Deutschland and Japan’s Jupiter Communications. On the telco side, CenturyLink has licensed the RDK as it explores a next-generation video platform.
Charter’s possible future path to the RDK shouldn’t be a rough one, as several of its technology partners involved in the Spectrum Guide and its coming device platform have already developed RDK-based products or the ability to tack on RDK capabilities.
Cisco and Humax, the initial known suppliers of the Worldbox, have also built set-tops with RDK on board and Zodiac Interactive, the company that built the software stack for the Worldbox, confirmed last year that the architecture supports RDK as an optional/modular component.
ActiveVideo, a company that is playing a big role in Charter’s cloud-based platform, is also an RDK licensee and has developed an application and service framework that could ride on top of the software stack. Arris and Charter, via a joint venture, recently acquired ActiveVideo for $135 million.