'The Observatory' to Offer Well-Rounded View of Cable’s History

Exhibit to Serve as Centerpiece of Show Floor

When and why did the cable industry get off the ground? When did the cable modem era begin? How will the ongoing all-IP transition accelerate cable’s ability to innovate?

Those are just some of the questions that will be answered via a visit to “The Observatory,” a large exhibit that will serve as the centerpiece on this week’s show floor, and demonstrate, through the use of imagery and multimedia elements to underscore, how cable as a platform – and as a driver of new services and applications – has evolved over the decades.

The signature element of The Observatory is a 6,600-square foot, 360-degree theater. As a show centerpiece, it will be situated across the main isle from Imagine Park, a live event stage on the floor that’s slated to provide hours of information on new products, new ideas and general thought leadership. More than 40 companies are set to take the stage at Imagine Park, which will hit on topics such as second screen applications, advanced user interfaces, communications policy, cable’s all-IP transition, Big Data, and Comcast’s Reference Design Kit.

The NCTA has previously hit on this theme at recent shows by trying to tell cable’s story by demonstrating advanced cable services running in a sample home or a miniaturized town.

But "The Observatory is a new concept for the NCTA,” Mark Bell, the vice president of industry affairs at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said. While not solely designed as a “history lesson” on cable, The Observatory will show how cable’s “past really serves as our resume going forward,” he said.

The Observatory – and the various demonstrations that will be featured there -- is being built in partnership with several programmers, MSOs and vendors, including A+E Networks, Arris, Comcast, Cox Communications, CommScope, Disney/ESPN Media Networks, Ericsson, HBO, Fox, LG Electronics, USA, NBC Universal, Scripps Networks Interactive, Showtime Networks, Time Warner Cable, and Turner, among others.


And The Observatory will shine a spotlight on a number of innovations.  Among the big ones will be a set-up showing what 1 Gigabit per second speeds will look like and how cable can already achieve such speeds with existing equipment. Partners will also show how cable’s also on a clear path to multi-Gigabit speeds using budding platforms such as DOCSIS 3.1.

For its part, Ericsson will pitch in with a Wi-Fi network that will show off the capabilities of a new “CableWiFi” roaming feature that currently involves five participating MSOs: Bright House, Cablevision Systems, Comcast, Cox, and Time Warner Cable.

The demos will also give a nod to another important development : the extension of cable video services to consumer electronics devices, including the Xbox, Roku and TiVo boxes, and IP-connected smart TVs.

The Observatory will also apply a focus on improved user interfaces. Among those that will be demonstrated: the Comcast X1 guide, the Cox Trio guide, Veveo’s voice-controlled apps for video search and discovery,  Hillcrest Labs’s motion-based technology for remote controls, and MediaGallery, a cloud-based guide from Arris that it obtained via its recent acquisition of Motorola Home.

Following along the lines of the “App Pond” at last year’s show in Boston, The Observatory will also be in close proximity to a “Cable to Go” area dedicated to a showcase of media and entertainment-themes apps running on tablets and other mobile devices. Bell said the NCTA has invited more than 20 companies to show off their latest  mobile apps.

But those demos will represent just one component of the broader Observatory exhibit area. “Demonstrations are powerful and part of our industry story, but it’s not only thing we want to do with The Observatory,” Bell said.

The Observatory will also hit on a number of major themes, including one centered on “cable as a disruptive innovator.”  As a timeline wrapped around the outside of the theater, this component will present a graphical representation of key cable innovations, including the cable modem;  the evolution of the hybrid fiber/coax network and the two-way, interactivity; the interactive program guide; and the launch of niche channels.