Time Warner Cable has pulled an undisclosed number of its 26,000 subscribers from its HBO/SVOD test in Columbia, S.C., due to higher than expected demand during the trial's first week of operation.
TWC spokesman Mike Luftman said the company was lowering the number of subscribers who could join the trial and is making software modifications to meet demand for HBO's SVOD service.
"The initial test makes us very optimistic," he said, but cautioned that "it's typical to get a spike in interest when a new service is launched."
TWC's Columbia-Orangeburg, S.C., system has 40,000 digital subscribers, Luftman said. Of those, 26,000 are HBO digital subscribers. When the system launched SVOD three weeks ago, subscribers could impulse-order HBO's SVOD service.
Industry sources said that soon after launch, 3,000 requests came in during a 90-minute time period, including 647 requests during one 10-minute stretch alone. That was enough to hobble the Scientific-Atlanta Digital Network Control System, which wasn't configured to handle that amount of simultaneous traffic.
"It's a classic traffic engineering issue," said Bob Van Orden, vice president of product strategy at S-A. "It bodes extremely well for SVOD."
The first month is free to subscribers, thereafter subscribers will pay $3.95 a month. Van Orden said that with a free trial "you will get an awful lot of people trying it."
Over the past two weeks, Van Orden said S-A has tested new software configurations to fix the problem. S-A's DNCS operates on 15 to 20 different performance stats, he said.
Two key metrics for Columbia, industry sources siad, are the number of streams the S-A controller and Concurrent Computer Corp. server can handle in any given minute and the number of simultaneous streams that can be delivered at any one time across the system.
Van Orden said S-A is working with vendors to modify its traffic engineering software to handle the increased activity in Columbia. "You have to look at all the potential bottlenecks," he added. It's also possible that the system could add server disks and split nodes if the SVOD service proves so popular that traffic continues to be as heavy, he said.
Subscribers who couldn't connect to the service were asked to try again in 30 seconds, at which time they could access the content, Luftman said.
TWC wants to get SVOD content to subscribers in a matter of seconds, so it has decided to restrict the number of homes, node by node, and add subscribers at a clip of 1,000 to 2,000 per week over the next few months, until all 26,000 are back on board.
Those subscribers would still get the service free for a month, Luftman said. He added that at the moment TWC does not feel there is a need to increase server capacity or split nodes to handle the increased activity, believing that a slower rollout and software tweaks will solve the issue.
The Sopranos, Sex and the City
and the movies Chicken Run
proved to be the most popular programs, Luftman said.
Currently, HBO is the only content being tested in Columbia, he added. In fact, HBO SVOD is the first video-on-demand product of any kind in the market. TWC has rolled out VOD in Honolulu; Austin, Texas, and Tampa, Fla.
But it's clear the Columbia metrics give VOD and SVOD proponents a new baseline set of usage numbers from which to operate. "It's a good problem to have," Van Orden said. But given HBO is the only SVOD content that's available there, traffic could get heavier as Showtime, Starz/Encore and other SVOD content is added.