Comcast: Moving At Apple’s Tech Speed

Comcast: Moving At Apple’s Tech Speed
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ORLANDO, Fla. — Can Comcast, which has a track record of relatively poor customer- satisfaction ratings, deliver technology and services that are as simple, fun and sexy as Apple’s?

That’s a goal for the No. 1 U.S. cable operator, said Charlotte Field, Comcast senior vice president of infrastructure and operations, speaking on a panel with three other female senior technology and operations execs here at the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo.

“We want to be the next Apple,” Field said, adding that Comcast needs to accelerate its development-cycle times, to keep pace with the demand for more features and content across multiple devices.

“We can’t wait two years for a new guide to be delivered,” Field said. “We are not doing that because of traditional competition, but because of the competition that’s coming.”

That said, she added, “Anytime you introduce something new, you have a subset of people who don’t like it no matter how intuitive it is — because it’s a change.” But customers generally have been receptive to the new features and applications Comcast has rolled out, she said.

Cable operators are looking to tap into cloud-based approached to introduce and change services more quickly, the panelists said. That would move functions that traditionally have been resident in settops into the network.

“Obviously we’re big fans of the cloud,” Yvette Kanouff, executive vice president of engineering and technology at Cablevision Systems, said. “Our strategic vision is to say, what would happen if there were no set-top box there?”

Cablevision has deployed network DVR service across much of its New York-area footprint and is looking to move other elements — including the user interface — into the cloud, Kanouff said.

“We want to separate the set-top functionality and performance from the user experience but we are not quite there yet,” she said. The MSO recently began deploying “Onyx,” the internal name of its nextgeneration guide, on set-tops in Long Island, N.Y.

Bright House Networks president Nomi Bergman said delivering guides from the cloud also promises to reduce costs. “It’s been incredibly cumbersome on our operations to support new releases [on set-tops],” she said.

With more services being delivered from the cloud, the headend is going to transform, with some elements moving to a central data center, Field said. Operators may have a master headend, with caches at the edges: “You have lots of clouds,” she said.