The Cable Show 2013: Too Legit To Quit

The 2013 NTCA Cable Show opened up with MC Hammer performing 2 Legit 2 Quit and while it was entertaining to most (except the gentleman sitting next to me with his fingers in his ears) the message was clear – the Cable industry is not what it used to be.  In the words of NTCA’s current president and former FCC Chairman Michael Powell – “Cable is more than great TV – it is the conduit to our future.”  After spouting a few key data points (85% of U.S. Households can receive 100Mbps+ speeds from cable and that 10 of the top 15 fastest broadband markets are U.S. states) – he closed by stating that “cable is the platform that makes our digital dreams come true.”

While this show has historically focused on the relationship between cable operators and content providers – and that theme was still quite relevant particularly in the realm of multi-screen/TV-Everywhere services – there was also considerable focus on new services such as WiFI and Home Automation/Security, the technology that makes them happen and alot of discussion around evolving business models.

Continuing a trend that started a few years ago- Comcast took the lead at the show with a number of announcements showcasing their continuing innovation and strong position/influence in the market place.  Highlights included the debut of the X2 – its next generation of its cloud-based entertainment platform, the introduction of a self-monitored home security solution, and its neighborhood WiFi initiative – to name only a few.

Multi-screen and TV-Everywhere remain hot topics for discussion and debate – especially between content providers/originators and cable operators, but the all agree that the consumer is in control.  One thing they have agreed on is that the current products are not simple enough for the majority of users and that more work needs to be done to provide a seamless experience in both authentication and the user interface.  I believe Showtime Networks chairman and CEO Matt Blank said it best “Any way to take that on demand platform and provide different access to it, we think just helps the service.”

From a WiFi perspective, the Cable WiFi Alliance announced that it now operates about 150,000 hotspots nationwide, tripling in size since the network was created last year.  Additionally, in an CTO panel held on Monday, all of the operators named WiFi as one of their strategic priorities.

From a technology perspective, hot areas were DOCSIS 3.1, CCAP, Gigabit Services, RDK, new User Interfaces and Big Data.

DOCSIS 3.1:  The specification is moving along quickly and is expected to be completed by the end of 2013.  Trials are expected to start in 2014, with deployments in 2015.  DOCSIS 3.1 uses orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM)  that will enable cable to use existing spectrum more efficiently – with gains up to 50%.  Potential speed offerings could run as high as 10Gbps in the down stream, while gains on the lower end of the spectrum, could push potential upstream to 2 Gbps.

CCAP:  A number of vendors were showing off their technology – even if it was behind closed doors and we were sworn to secrecy.  The operators discussed this technology, announced a few trials and addressed the key drivers – so eloquently summarized by CED Magazine:


CCAP_Drivers

Gigabit Services:  The cable operators were clear to state these are already available to business customers, but they have no near term plans to offer to residential market.  Comcast stated they would establish “innovation zones” to getter understand the demand for Gigabit broadband – but believed that 4K video would likely be a driver long-term.

RDK – a number of vendors, 20 to be exact, were demonstrating their solutions based on the Reference Design Kit (RDK). RDK is a pre-integrated software bundle that creates a common framework for set-top boxes, gateways, and  other IP-based devices. By pre-integrating core software  components, RDK substantially reduces the length of time it takes to launch new hardware and software – from years to months.

Big Data:  We all know that operators have the ability to collect ALOT of data about customer usage from the set top box – what channels you watch, how many times to change a channel, etc.  But the issues about privacy remain.  Nonetheless, operators and content provider are looking at solutions that will enable them to leverage social media analytics as well as data from multi-screen devices to gain a better understanding of consumers usage and consumption patterns.

User Interfaces:  Alot of advancements in this space as companies leverage cloud technology.  Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Cox Communications all demonstrated new UI’s which have been redesigned for simplicity, more intuitive and personalized.  Additionally, we are starting to see UI that are searchable by voice commands, integrate ratings information as well as twitter scores/trends.

Overall this show continues to attracts C-level participants who are willing to share their expertise and opinions in an open forum.  Perhaps the one disappointing panel was on Broadband Innovation – with Twitter, Jawbone, Roku, Fox Media and Charter on the panel – they never really talked about how broadband has actually enabled many of these businesses – nor did they talk about what the future may hold.  A missed opportunity.

Nonetheless, Cable demonstrated its staying power – making it clear that they are as strong, if not stronger businesses than a decade ago, fueled by multiple services. Indeed – too legit to quit.

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