At SCTE, the Message is the Medium

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The cable industry holds the most applications and tools to exploit the broadband future, panelists said at the opening session of last week’s Society of Cable & Telecommunications Engineers Cable-Tec Expo here.

“You’re in the best position for multimedia broadband interactive services,” said Brian McFadden, president of optical networks at Nortel Networks Inc. “It’s a challenge for satellite and the [incumbent local-exchange carriers]. The key is interactivity. [Voice-over-Internet protocol] should be called multimedia-over-IP.”

Cable can meet the competition, said Advance/Newhouse president and chairman Bob Miron, but “we have to play our own game. We have to decide what it is we want to market and target our customers.”

Panelists also saw opportunities in new areas, including wireless broadband extensions. “We’re looking at integrating mobility into our VoIP model, mostly in the [small-office/home-office] market,” Miron said.

“Everybody is taking a hard look at it,” said Carl Vogel, CEO of Charter Communications Inc. “It’s more glue in the bundle and it’s not factored into Wall Street business models. It takes years to do that, but the opportunity is there.”

Open TV chief executive officer and chairman Jim Chiddix said the cable industry needs a software infrastructure “to launch new applications knowing it’s going to run on a ubiquitous tested software platform.”

That platform is the Open Cable Applications Platform, said Miron. “There is a tremendous effort to make OCAP real,” he said.

Added Chiddix: “OCAP is the right dream. The question is, how quickly that can happen?”

Vogel said Charter’s simultrans digital-and-analog conversion in Long Beach, Calif., is going well. “We’ve had excellent response from the programming community because their picture looks a lot better. The real issue is the consumer issue, and how you transition that consumer in a cost-effective way.”

The migration to all-digital will occur over the next few years, Vogel said. “We need a lower cost set-top, and you have to explain the difference to customers.”

The challenge for cable is to move quickly enough.

“Cable has to move fast,” Chiddix said. “This two- to three-year development cycle isn’t going to work.”

Vogel concurred: “We need to get products to market quicker. And we have to make sure we can market them, and that they are simple and easy to use.”

Added Miron: “It’s people and execution all the way down the line.”

Panelists were asked whether Starz! Ticket, the new online subscription video-on-demand offering proffered by Starz Encore Group LLC and Real Networks Inc., was competitive to the Starz! linear service.

“You need broadband to make that work,” Vogel said. “We need to make sure customers understand the benefits. We’ll get our fair share of that market.”

Added Miron: “We have to add something to the product. If we allow ourselves to be a dumb pipe, we’ll be a dumb pipe. We could make the same offering. We could make the same arrangement with Starz.”

Said Vogel: “Operators have taken other forms of content, like [Major League Baseball]. I think these things can co-exist.”

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