Liao: Watch Out for Disruptive Tech


Paul Liao is checking out of CableLabs — a quick exit for the head of the R&D consortium, who has been in
that position since July 2009. The former Panasonic chief technology officer, who will turn 68 in November,
notifi d the CableLabs board earlier this month that he will not seek to renew his contract, which expires at
the end of 2012 (“Liao Says ‘Ciao’ to CableLabs,” Oct. 17, 2011). Liao’s brief tenure is in contrast to
that of his predecessor, Dick Green, who served as president and CEO of CableLabs for more than two decades
from its inception in 1988. Sources said it’s too early in the process to handicap who’s being considered for the CEO spot, but
indications are that the CableLabs board will once again look outside the industry. Liao spoke last week with Multichannel
technology editor Todd Spangler about his departure and what’s next for CableLabs.

MCN: Why are you leaving CableLabs?

Paul Liao: I’m leaving for personal reasons. I’m going to
leave it at that.

MCN: Did you achieve what you set out to do?

PL: Well, by no means. There’s a lot more to do. My contract
doesn’t end until next year. We’ll see how the recruiting [for
a new CableLabs CEO] goes, but there’s a lot to do here. I’m
just lucky to have been here at this time.

MCN: What was your biggest accomplishment at

PL: When I got to CableLabs, I set up a number of objectives
I wanted to accomplish. Fundamentally, there were five
things I thought we should set out on.

One was to get the San Francisco Bay area office going
[which CableLabs opened last month]. I told Brian [Roberts,
CEO of Comcast] when I first joined, I said we needed
a presence in the Bay Area because of all the disruptive innovation
going on here — it would be great to have the cable
industry tap into that.

The second thing is, when I looked at the residentialvideo
business, cable was the largest provider of that, and
when you’re the largest provider it’s really hard to grow that.
Commercial services is, and has been, the fastest-growing
part of the cable industry. We’ve done some important things,
like provisioning of Ethernet over DOCSIS services — things
like that. That enables MSOs to not only provide carrier-grade
services, but also at marginally low costs.

The third area is maybe advanced advertising. If you look
at new revenues, it’s a really big opportunity. We’ve had a
large number of interops and the excitement builds with each
one. There’s a whole array of set-tops and user agents, all interoperating
the way they should — just because you have a
spec doesn’t mean things work the way they should.

The fourth thing is this whole transition to [Internet protocol],
being able to provide services to smartphones and tablets
and smart TVs and PCs. Here, the industry has really done a
fantastic job, and I’m proud of what CableLabs has done to help
that … We just had, last week, a DLNA [Digital Living Network
Alliance] interop at CableLabs. It was amazing seeing all these
different boxes interoperating.

Finally, obviously if all this is going to be supported, you
need a network. Here we’ve launched the CCAP [Converged
Cable Access Platform] initiative, the consolidation of [Comcast’s]
CMAP [Converged Multiservice Access Platform] and
[Time Warner Cable’s] CESAR [Converged Edge Services
Access Router] to get the cost down and the performance up.
… The CCAP stuff is extremely important.

MCN: What’s been the toughest part of the job?

PL: Probably no surprise to anyone, it’s a membership organization,
and you have members that don’t always have
the same opinions. At the same time, that’s a benefit of the
job, and you can hear all the different perspectives.

MCN: So it’s one part technology, two parts diplomacy?

PL: [Laughs.] Yeah, they’re both important. But I don’t
know which one is one part and which is two.

MCN: What was the most unexpected thing you’ve found
about CableLabs?

PL: I should have expected this, but the people at CableLabs
are just fantastic. They’re extremely bright, and just a pleasure
to work with. The second thing was the collegiality and
the support of the CEOs that are on our board. They work
together very nicely and are extremely supportive of Cable-
Labs and really look to us to set their strategic direction.

MCN: What advice
do you have for your

PL: I’ll let my successor
figure that out.
[Laughs.] The other
thing is, Dick Green
has been a great help
to me, and both Dick
and I will help whoever
comes here.

MCN: What are the
qualities the CEO of
CableLabs needs to

PL: Whether the person
comes from inside
the cable industry or
outside, being able
to see what’s going
to disrupt the cable
industry is very, very
important. I think
we’ve made real progress
by taking advantage
of Web services
and protocols — we
can free the industry
from the limitations of
the traditional set-top.
But this is happening
at a speed I don’t think
anyone could have
foretold. The next
technology will probably
come from out of

MCN: What technology
have most impressed you, either in the cable industry or
more broadly?

PL: I think it’s not so much any specific technology, as it
is the [ability of the] industry to adapt to the high speed
at which things are happening. And it goes across

MCN: Cable has had trouble fostering an ecosystem of
innovative startups. How can the industry rectify this to
move to the right direction?

PL: I think this CableLabs office in San Francisco is one
thing. You have to be here. [Companies and groups outside
the industry] don’t have enough visibility into what the cable
operators are doing. I’m looking forward to this office
being a nerve center for the cable industry.

MCN: How big is the San Francisco office right now?

PL: Right now we have four people, not counting myself. I
try to make it here once a week. We’re hoping to grow that.

MCN: What is the mandate for the CableLabs San
Francisco office?

PL: The first is outreach to the community and ability for
them to see what cable is doing — not only to venturebacked
startups, but also the universities in the area and,
for that matter, beyond the Bay Area.

The other thing is, so many of the software-focused startups
— especially around social gaming and mobile applications
— are creating very exciting applications. We want to
figure out how those can be part of the cable industry.