Time Warner Cable is quietly launching the next iteration of video-on-demand in Green Bay, Wis., and Los Angeles, two markets that provide examples of the network topology and video-on-demand content and packaging lineup that will likely be replicated by the MSO across the country.
In Green Bay, Time Warner Cable has launched movies-on-demand; subscription VOD packages from Home Box Office, Cinemax, Showtime and The Movie Channel; free on-demand content from Scripps Networks outlets Home & Garden Television, Do It Yourself Network and Food Network; and a package of music videos from Warner Bros. Music. And in Los Angeles, Time Warner Cable has launched the same product lineup in portions of the city, along with adult VOD movies.
In addition to the Scripps product from HGTV, DIY and Food, Time Warner Cable said it will add free on-demand programming from The Biography Channel, The Golf Channel, BBC America, Cartoon Network and Cable News Network over the next few weeks.
BASICS ON DEMAND
The launch marks the first time that extensive programming from basic networks, including CNN, has been available for free on-demand viewing.
Until now, most basic network programming, traditionally delivered through Diva Systems Corp. or In Demand LLC, carried with it a per-program fee.
What's more, Multichannel News
has learned Time Warner Cable is carrying hit movies from Warner Bros. and Walt Disney Co. A check of the July schedule shows Warner's Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
and Disney's Snow Dogs
on Time Warner Cable's VOD lineup.
In Demand has deals with Sony Corp., Universal Corp., Twentieth Century Fox Film Corp. and Dreamworks SKG. Paramount Pictures is the only major studio that Time Warner Cable does not have access to.
Hit movies generally cost $3.95. The SVOD packages from HBO and Showtime are priced at $6.95 each per month.
Time Warner Cable is also breaking ground with new technology. The MSO is using Gigabit Ethernet technology to transport VOD streams from the server to quadrature-amplitude modulation (QAM) devices in the nodes at Green Bay.
"At the lowest level, the new Interactive Services Architecture allows us to more rapidly add new products, new kinds of applications and new kinds of services in the network," Time Warner Cable vice president of corporate development Mike LaJoie said. The ISA is part of Time Warner's effort to standardize all aspects of VOD technology and operations across various vendors so that all elements, including set-tops, servers and billing systems, work together seamlessly.
Both Time Warner Cable markets sport nCube Corp. servers at their core. Green Bay runs on the Convergys Corp. billing system and uses Scientific-Atlanta Inc. set-tops.
In Los Angeles, the MSO uses Pioneer Electronics Inc. set-tops and the CSG Systems International Inc. billing system. "We've been working on the integration since November," LaJoie said.
Time Warner Cable has spent much of the past nine months finishing work on its ISA, making sure that products and services work together not only today, but in the future as new services and applications are added, LaJoie said.
"That's one thing that we've accomplished," he said. "We've worked with Pioneer and S-A on a better integrated VOD presentation. Before it was vendor-specific, and the user interface was a separate application launched from a channel."
"We've integrated the on-demand support into the electronic programming guide," LaJoie continued. "VOD now runs in the channel lineup."
For instance, with an HBO linear channel is the HBO On Demand portal, a screen that takes viewers to HBO's On Demand menu where they can select from dozens of titles.
The architectures in both markets are slightly different. NCube said it will place one server in Green Bay, which serves about 150,000 subscribers, while nCube will have three servers in Los Angeles for its 363,000 subscribers.
Each nCube server can handle 3,000 simultaneous streams, according to Jay Schiller, senior vice president of broadband strategy and product management.
The minimal amount of storage on each server is 3,000 hours, but that can be scaled up to 12,000 hours by either installing more disks or larger disks. That translates to one month of programming from 200 cable networks.
As content libraries grow, Schiller said MSOs have different storage options. "You can let the content stay on the server even though the metadata may have expired, you can delete it or move it to backup storage," he said.
Although nCube currently is not encoding content on the fly, such live encoding is possible with its servers, he said.
GIG E IS SPREADING
Green Bay is Time Warner Cable's first marketwide use of Gigabit Ethernet technology, but the MSO will roll out the technology in more markets later this year, said Reggie Workman, vice president of advanced engineering for Time Warner Cable.
The nCube video servers pump out video in ASI (Asynchronous Serial Input) format, where it's converted to a DVB format for transport through a Gigabit Ethernet network from Harmonic Corp. to Scientific-Atlanta QAM modulators. The DVB signal is converted back to ASI at the QAM, for distribution to the home.
Workman said Gig E transport still costs more than ASI today, given the extra devices necessary to convert signals back and forth, but that costs are dropping daily.
"Gigabit Ethernet is evolving," Workman said. "The expectation is that it will be the transport medium for VOD."
But Workman said Time Warner Cable will decide market by market whether to use Gig E or ASI. "Right now, either one works for us. We have lots of legacy equipment with ASI inputs and the servers aren't putting out true Gig E yet. The expectation is that there will be a migration."
LaJoie adds that the cost of Gig E is less than the cost of replicate content in remote sites if the fiber is in place.
Time Warner Cable is using N2 Broadband's "catcher" technology and business management systems to receive and store content. LaJoie said Time Warner Cable also is looking at N2's asset management.
LaJoie also said Green Bay is testing the S-A 8000 box as well as a high definition TV set-top box, both of which also can handle VOD.