Open Standards Ease Rollouts

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As the commercial rollout of video-on-demand continues its momentum, several critical issues have come to the forefront that can be solved by adopting open standards. Here are a few:

Several issues are best understood as scalability limitations, which threaten to limit the rollout of new services. In essence, cable-system headends are not “plug-and-play” compatible.

Each combination of the various VOD applications, servers, billing systems, and other headend systems requires software interface “hard wiring” for that particular configuration. Hence, each isn't easily reusable in other headend configurations.

For each VOD service, there must be unique installation, operation and content-interface conventions — and services are generally unable to share content. These issues alone make integration into new sites cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive.

In addition, typical network-control systems deployed by many operators are limited in terms of the number of individual stream sessions that can be simultaneously established and managed.

Now that multiple VOD services are being deployed in cable headends, these scalability issues must be resolved. Otherwise, the custom integration and services-management burdens for distributing and administrating on-demand services will quickly become insurmountable for cable operators and providers of VOD services alike.

Content providers and cable operators all have a stake in issues that concern the control of content. Content providers must receive royalties each time a subscriber views a movie, and they need to know who is getting which pieces of content, so advertising and other programming can be tailored more effectively to individual viewing habits.

Additionally, studios want to control the length of time in which content is available to subscribers and how it is being viewed. Studios and cable operators have a common interest in ensuring accurate accounting of content consumption.

The transition to new on-demand services further introduces many tough technology-management issues. Newer interactive digital-cable systems are far more complex to deploy and maintain than earlier analog and digital broadcast-only systems. Interactive digital services require the distribution and management of packaged information over high-speed networks with a variety of interfaces and protocols. Software and distributed computing systems are the key technologies required to provide these services.

In addition, the system must be monitored continuously to ensure that servers are operating properly, capacity is adequate and files and updates have been accurately received. Operators of digital-cable systems require a very high level of support from VOD-service vendors and typically require considerable technical assistance and support to deploy commercial on-demand services.

Addressing the issues of scalability, control and technology management are imperative to meeting the demand of tomorrow's on-demand consumers. Before content providers and cable operators can offer a VOD service that is affordable and scalable, an open standard must be adopted.

By requiring all selected components to comply with open standards, the cable operator is able to select best-of-breed components from various vendors and be assured that that equipment will interoperate. In a proprietary environment, the VOD application, business-management system, video server and storage server must all be supplied by the same manufacturer.

With open standards, the operator is free to choose these components from vendors that specialize in a particular area and not from a single source.

Interoperability is the key to seamless and easy technology integration and the use of open, published interfaces is critical to achieving it.