Cox: X1 ‘Became a Very Attractive Scenario for Us’

Comcast to Host User Interface, Cox to Retain Control of Content
Cox Contour x1 400x300.jpg

By moving ahead with a national license and a coming, expanded rollout of a video offering based on X1, Cox Communications has decided to ride Comcast’s cloud-based platform for its so-called “future state” video project.

“We’ve made our pick,” Steve Necessary, Cox’s vice president of product development and management, said in an interview, noting that the MSO has “cast our lot” with the selection of the platform.  

The MSOs aren’t disclosing the financial terms of the agreement, but Necessary said the agreement will generally operate on a per-subscriber basis.  Cox has about 4 million subscribers, making it the nation’s fourth-largest incumbent cable operator.

Necessary agreed with the general notion that, by going with X1, the operator had essentially  opted for a “buy” versus “build” strategy for its next-gen platform, noting that Cox is eager to leverage the investment and innovation path that Comcast has established with its cloud-based platform.

“It clearly became a very attractive scenario for us,” said Necessary. “But it was not a decision that we made lightly.”

Necessary also outlined some of the technology and content-facing elements of the deal. While Comcast will host Cox’s new UI for set-tops and mobile devices from its cloud-based platform, all content, including linear and VOD that’s delivered over IP via Cox’s content delivery network, “is on our side of the wall,” he said.

Regarding the original Contour, a multiscreen platform that Cox developed in partnership with Cisco Systems and others, Cox intends to continue to support it for existing customers. But Cox does intend to phase out Contour’s current second-screen application (Cox has developed versions for iOS and Android) and consolidate everything to a new app that will run on the X1 architecture.

While Cox will have a chance to ride X1’s development wave, the flip side is that Cox will lose some control of the interface. Cox’s new UI will be branded by the cable operator and carry the Contour label, but “at the moment, the opportunity to customize it is pretty limited,” Necessary said.

 That could change later, but “in context, it’s a pretty remarkable platform,” he said of X1, noting that the roadmap for that platform “are pretty darn impressive.”

Early on, Cox will not feature a Cloud DVR in its X1 rollout, but will look into it for a future enhancement. Comcast has already deployed a Cloud DVR service for X1 in several markets, allowing subs to view recorded programming in and out of the home, and download recordings to mobile devices for offline viewing.

The Cox exec said it’s too early to say how the MSO might look to tap X1 to blend its traditional TV services with over-the-top content. Cox does not intend to integrate some of its  new OTT apps and services, such as flarePlay, FlareKids and the coming Flare MeTV offering, at the set-top box.

“Those are on different paths…and different use cases,” he said, noting that they are in place to enhance the baseline video subscription model.

Cox believes that the work done during the trial phase will pave a path to a smooth, broader deployment in 2016.

“It was a big integration effort to be sure,” Necessary said, noting that some APIs had to be built to combine the two sides. “I’d characterize it as a dramatically and wonderfully collaborative  effort between our two organizations…Nowhere along the line did we say, ‘Gosh, this isn’t going to work.’”