What Mattered at CES
I didn't go to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year, but keeping tabs of a Twitter feed full of moaning and groaning about the crummy Wi-Fi, long cab lines, lack of sleep and sore feet made it almost feel like I was there.
From a cable news perspective, it didn't appear like I missed anything all that earth-shattering. I didn't get the always important face-time with people and some hands-on demos, but most of the commodity news was video-streamed for all to see. The kerfuffle between Dish Network Corp. and CBS Corp. over the Hopper DVR (now with Sling!) served as the entertaining capper to the annual gadgetfest.
Still, even from a vantage point more than 2,000 miles away from Sin City, there were some takeaways and emerging trends of importance to the cable industry.
Cable tried and failed to create a retail model for cable-ready set-tops and TVs with tru2way, but the notion of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) lives on and seems to be closer to reality than ever before. We did see the rise of a new class of "headless" gateways that can be installed in an out-of-the-way place and conceivably shuttle cable services via Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) and Wi-Fi to IP-connected TVs, gaming consoles, Blu-ray players and tablets. While there's still a cable-supplied device involved, the approach should open up the CE options everywhere else in the house.
Much of the cable-related news swirled around the Comcast Corp. Reference Design Kit (RDK), which seems to be off to a very good start. Comcast is big enough to get the project off the ground and establish an RDK, but it will need more operators to buy in if it's to achieve true economies of scale and establish a big pool of application developers.
Getting personal with TV
With access to sprawling linear-TV lineups, gigantic VoD vaults and multiple devices to get to it all, cable consumers face a paradox of choice. Blah, blah, blah. Yes, we've heard it all before. Only now are we seeing the operators do something about it. Cox Communications Inc. and Time Warner Cable Inc. talked up new systems that recommend individualized content, which is important in any household. Netflix Inc. makes recommendations on a less astute household-wide basis. My kids use Netflix more than I do, which is why my top 10 recommendations are filled with Danny Phantom, Beyblade Metal Fusion and the Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog. Helpful to my 9-year-old son. Not so much to me.
3-D was a dud. While 3-D is a feature in many new TVs, there's still a dearth of content and the technology, on its own, has not caused consumers to snap up new TVs the way that the HDTV movement did. So now the TV guys are throwing their weight behind 4K UltraHD. The displays are super-expensive and there's hardly any content in that format. But the wave has begun, and I expect the pay-TV operators to back it. They'll have to adopt more efficient compression, like HEVC, to make room for it. Some operators will move on UltraHD faster than others to goose subscriptions of high-end customers, but eventually it will become table stakes and turn today's HD into tomorrow's SD.
Home security and automation
With AT&T Inc. jumping in, this service category is starting to become a must-have for service operators. While home security and automation is a fragmented market, having the major operators get into the game will likely expand it. It won't turn into a material business overnight, but it could become a serious churn-buster. After all, if you've got home security and automation in your service bundle, it's just that much more of a pain to change to another provider, no?
AT&T rolled out a subscription streaming service this week, while Verizon Communications Inc. was out promoting the service it's launching in tandem with Redbox Automated Retail LLC. Comcast, meanwhile, already has Streampix. So, everyone wants to be a bit like Netflix, even if their services don't appear to be as wide and deep and accessible as Netflix, at least early on.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable