HITS Adds Digital Customization


AT&T Broadband said its Headend in the Sky digital transmission system now supports Terayon Communication Systems Inc.'s "Cherry Picker National Control" digital-video management product, which would allow its affiliates to customize or groom their digital lineups and eventually foster ad-insertion capabilities.

CherryPicker National Control is the latest iteration of Terayon's digital-customization product. It's designed specifically for cable systems that receive HITS content and employ Motorola Broadband Communications Sector's National Authorization Services (NAS), which permits individual set-top boxes to offer pay-per-view programming and other premium-based video services.

The more evolved version of Terayon's grooming equipment allows HITS affiliates to cherry-pick programming from all 13 of the service's transponders, as well as local programming sources, said Chris Summey, vice president of marketing and business development for Terayon's digital-video systems division.

So far, about six MSOs have deployed the technology in from one to three systems each, HITS director of account management Bo Urquhart said.

In the future, additional HITS systems are expected to use the system to customize their digital tiers.

"It's open to the world right now," Urquhart said, noting that HITS doesn't restrict access to Terayon's grooming technology. With more than 4.5 million set-top boxes on its national-control platform, HITS provides more than 950 downlinks to about 150 different cable systems.

Terayon said it has deployed more than 700 CherryPickers so far, sprinkled among MSOs such as Adelphia Communications Corp., Charter Communications Inc., Cogeco Cable Canada Inc., Cox Communications Inc., Time Warner Cable, Le Groupe Vidéotron Ltée and Switzerland-based Cablecom and Telegeneve.

For AT&T, the CherryPicker selection closes a historical loop. CherryPicker was developed by a company called Imedia Corp., and Imedia's first big break was an endorsement from then-Tele-Communications Inc. CEO John Malone.

TCI, which also owned HITS before it sold out to AT&T, signed a contract with Imedia in 1996 and, at one time, envisioned using the CherryPicker technology to compress some programming densely enough to cram 24 digital channels into one 6-megahertz slot.

But TCI later delayed using Imedia's statistical multiplexing technology, opting to use a rival approach from what was then called NextLevel Systems Inc. Imedia sued TCI, seeking $65 million in unpaid payments and licensing fees.

The two companies settled the litigation in late 1998, and TCI said it planned to test CherryPicker applications again.

Terayon bought Imedia for about $100 million in 1999.

In addition to allowing HITS affiliates to customize their programming lineups, Terayon's CherryPicker-coupled with its specialized HITS application-maximizes bandwidth, Summey said. That's because the equipment and software selects the appropriate variable bit rate for the quality level desired.

"That lowers pressures for video-on-demand and data services, which is key in maximizing systems that aren't 750- or 850-MHz systems," Summey added.

At the same time, making that extra bandwidth available helps ITV applications the because streams can be manipulated and data injected into them.

Terayon's grooming equipment is also expected to handle digital advertising insertion, an capability that could generate incremental revenue for cable operators. That will likely become a greater reality when digital cue-tone technology is added to the transport stream, Urquhart said. Today, digital cue tones must be manufactured locally.

A Society of Telecommunications Engineers committee presently is working on a standard for digital program insertion.