Time Warner Cable has deployed 150,000 set-top boxes running OpenCable Platform software — the cable industry’s specification for delivering two-way services like video on demand — in 13 divisions, including 50,000 units in the New York region, according to senior vice president of strategy and development Kevin Leddy.
The operator is deploying OpenCable-based boxes from Samsung Electronics, but Leddy noted that Scientific Atlanta has supplied more than half of those the operator deployed to date and that SA would represent the majority of OpenCable boxes it deploys in the future.
Time Warner Cable is providing OpenCable-based boxes to new digital-cable subscribers in markets that had been using the Passport interactive program guide, Leddy said. Time Warner Cable used the Passport IPG, developed by Aptiv Digital (now part of Gemstar-TV Guide International), in Milwaukee, Kansas City, Mo., and Lincoln, Neb., among other divisions.
With the 150,000-box tally, spread among about half its 27 operating divisions, Time Warner is well ahead of its peers in getting OpenCable — previously referred to as the OpenCable Application Platform, or OCAP — into the field. Comcast, for example, is trialing OCAP set-tops but has not commercially deployed any.
New York City and Northern New Jersey
Parts of Los Angeles (including Garden Grove, Chatsworth)
Eastern North Carolina (Wilmington)
Kansas City, Mo.
By the end of 2008, Time Warner Cable expects to have deployed OpenCable technology in all its divisions, as do Comcast, Cox Communications, Cablevision Systems and Bright House Networks. That group of operators represents 91 million households in 145 designated market areas, according to the National Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Leddy described Time Warner Cable’s OpenCable deployments at a roundtable discussion for reporters in New York hosted by the NCTA to provide operators’ perspective on the two-way cable issue.
The OpenCable Platform is the solution the industry has proposed to the Federal Communications Commission as the standard means of allowing third-party consumer-electronics devices, like TVs, to access interactive cable services, like VOD and switched digital video.
The Consumer Electronics Association wants the FCC to require cable to adopt a new specification the association referred to as DCR-plus (“digital cable ready plus”), which would define protocols for VOD, switched digital video, pay-per-view and electronic program guides. The CEA has complained that OpenCable is too cumbersome to implement and objected to CableLabs having control over the technology.
Cable providers contend that developing and supporting DCR-plus would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, while at the same time stifling development of new two-way services not specified under DCR-plus (such as caller ID on the TV). In addition, the cable industry has argued, OpenCable is the only feasible path toward providing a standard by the February 2009 digital-TV transition.
“OpenCable is a marketplace-driven solution and it’s in the market,” Comcast senior vice president of strategic planning Mark Coblitz said at the presentation last week. “We’re willing to have national rules from the FCC to hold our feet to the fire, to make sure [OpenCable] happens.”
NCTA vice president and general counsel Neal Goldberg pointed out the CEA’s proposal would require cable operators to deploy at least 20% of their set-tops based on DCR-plus. “It’s common reliance gone amok,” he said.
Not every consumer-electronics company has balked at OCAP. Manufacturers that have licensed the technology from CableLabs include LG Electronics, Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba. And Intel this summer signed on to OCAP and said it plans to develop a system-on-a-chip with the software; Comcast said it expects to deploy “one or more” Intel OCAP-based set-tops in the next two years.
Meanwhile, Leddy said the cost differential between OpenCable-based devices and analogous proprietary digital set-tops is minimal. “The premium we’re paying [for OCAP set-tops] is a few dollars,” he said.