Crossing Into Cross-Platform

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It’s hard to look at a page or listen to an industry conversation these days without seeing or hearing the words “cross-platform,” which also masquerade as “multiplatform” and, sometimes, “bundle 2.0.”

If you’re in the business of sending video, information and phone calls, over wires, to an expanding hodgepodge of devices in people’s homes — which anyone reading this magazine assuredly is — then you’re probably spending a bigger portion of your strategic time pondering how to mix and match those services.

This week’s translation aims to point out some of the bumps in the road to cross-platform services.

Because video is the granddaddy of the business and the Holy Grail of home entertainment, it probably makes sense to start the cross-platform discussion at the three types of screens found in people’s homes: Big, medium, and small.

THE THREE SCREENS

The big screen is that sleek, flat, high-definition beauty, hanging on the wall. Early on, HD screens were mostly used for viewing DVDs. Then came linear TV channels (there are 12 where I live) and a growing roster of HD on-demand shows.

Through the prism of cross-platform, HD screens are the focal point for bringing high-quality, protected video in from the Internet, or for showing a family’s home pictures and movies. Also on the idea list: Reading and deleting your e-mail; hearing and deleting your voice mail.

The medium screen, generally speaking, is the one near the main PC. The cross-platform view: Bringing in linear, broadcast-TV lineups, not unlike what’s already playing on the big screen. Or, building personalized playlists of viewable stuff, which get pushed over to the HDTV for you to pick from, the next time you’re watching that screen.

And there’s the small screen — the cellphone, media player, PDA. Cross-platform for the little screen means finding ways to attach it to the home network (wired or wireless), so that video shows can safely be loaded into it.

Some cross-platform issues tend to transcend all three screens: Keeping copyrighted material safe from piracy. Making sure the user interface is easy to use and reasonably common (marketing people say “branded”), across all navigable screens.

But while a traditional cable subscription services a household, with cross-platform activities, attention must be paid to the individuals in the house — and their devices. (In tech lingo, that last one goes by “service and device provisioning.”)

A decade or two ago, cable tech people generally clumped into three areas: Headend people, plant people, set-top people.

These days, and as it relates to cross-platform, the tech community is considerably more slivered. Headend, plant and set-top people still exist, in a very relevant way — but they’re joined by the digital video people, the broadband and Internet Protocol people, and the wireless people. And let us not forget the behind-the-scenes souls working on the mind-bending maw of software and back-office integration.

Historically, telcos build good specialists and cable companies build good generalists. Cross-platform craves cross-silo people: Specialized-generalists, generalized-specialists.

TECHNOLOGY LEADING

Within each service silo, technology suppliers continue to advance their products. The perceptive among them see growth in cross-platform. Result: Within each silo, technology is flourishing — at a predictably Internet-ish rate.

Traditional video suppliers are working it from the switch and the set-top.

Broadband and IP-side suppliers see the relative speed of their world as the faster and superior way to co-mingle services.

Wireless people hold up SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and IMS (IP Multimedia Subsystem) as a way to solve cross-platform everything.

On every screen, it’s safe to say that technology is moving faster than business decisions can keep up.

Stumped by gibberish? Visit Leslie Ellis at
www.translation-please.com

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