CTAM Summit 2009: VOD, Mobile Apps Dominate Cable's Future Plans


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A panel of cable programmers, operators and MSO technical gurus at the CTAM Summit here Tuesday mapped out their consumer product strategies for the future and the consensus appears to be that offerings that enhance the video-on-demand experience and provide customers with more mobility will rule the day.

Fox Cable Networks president Rich Battista kicked off the session, noting that he believes that VOD technology is at an inflection point.

"We're at the point now where trends are happening and we have technological opportunities to allow video on demand to go to the next level," Battista said, adding that technologies like dynamic ad insertion and interactive advertising pose great potential for the product.

But Battista, wary of his other constituents -- mainly advertisers -- said that what will drive the success of any new product will be the willingness of cable operators to disable the fast-forward function that allows viewers to skip ads. Battista pointed to Cox Communications' MyPrimeTime product, which allows customers to access VOD streams of a number of popular broadcast and cable shows on their TVs, but without the fast-forward option. He added that the notion that consumers would reject disabling the fast forward isn't entirely accurate.

"Consumers don't mind disabling fast-forward as long as they have convenience," Battista said, adding later that new technologies that include the fast-forward functionality, like network DVR, "send shivers down my spine."

Comcast executive vice president and chief technology officer Tony Werner said VOD enhancements were top of mind -- he said about 2/3 of an average customer's viewing hours are either DVRs or VOD. But Werner was equally high on mobile and online on demand applications. About 10,000 Comcast homes are is currently involved in the TV Everywhere trials, with average video viewing at about 21 minutes, nearly 10 times the 2 minutes to 3 minutes most people average on the Internet. Werner said the average customer in the trial was spending 89 minutes per session on average, though it was not immediately clear what that number referred to.

"That is an incredibly long time," Werner said. "And it is largely based on what the content is."

Time Warner Cable chief technology officer Mike LaJoie said mobile applications are a big priority, especially as the proliferation of personal devices continues.

"In the 90s we talked about convergence," LaJoie said. "It didn't happen. Instead there was this explosion of personal devices and an explosion of through put. The first thing that a consumer reaches for in the morning is going to be different five years from now and it's going to be a device that is not plugged into a wall. The cable industry, we own a great big plug."

LaJoie joked that the cable's concern over finding the killer application is like a "fish looking for water."
"TV is the killer app," LaJoie continued. "What else will people sit and stare at for four hours straight? The trick is to figure out these nuances out."

LaJoie added that for those that prefer to view their programming over the Internet, half of them are doing it over a cable high-speed connection, so the industry wouldn't lose the revenue stream entirely.