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Mark Cuban: tru2way Should Be More Open

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
7/25/2008
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LOS ANGELES -- Despite seeing potential for tru2way , Mark Cuban, the founder of HDNet and owner of the Dallas Mavericks (and maybe soon the Chicago Cubs, too, someday), has some issues with cable's attempt to create a uniform, "open" platform for digital set-tops, TVs, and the interactive apps that run on them. (See Cable Makes Big 'tru2way' Play and CES: Roberts Declares Open Season.)

Boiled down: he believes cable's "open" system isn't nearly open enough. (See Mark Cuban on tru2way: Open It Up .)

That was one of the messages Cuban shared here Thursday during a one-on-one interview with Heavy Reading senior analyst Alan Breznick that kicked off the latest Light Reading Live! event: Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies: Meeting the Satellite & Telco TV Challenge. (See Slideshow: Next-Gen Video Strategies Conference.)

Tru2way, he said, has "got to become more open. Right now it's a definitive walled garden."

Walled garden or not, major cable operators are making a significant commitment to the technology. Thanks to a "binding" memorandum of understanding (MOU) originally negotiated with Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE), five of the top six MSOs have agreed to provide network support for tru2way middleware and to install tru2way in the headends serving all digital cable systems by July 1, 2009. Charter Communications Inc. , which is among the six MSOs to sign the MOU, has until July 2010 to fulfill its obligation. (See Revealed: The Tru2way MOU and Sony Supports tru2way.)

Cuban said the cable industry needs to take on an "Internet mindset" and open up the onramp to its high-capacity broadband networks, while providing the ability to apply quality-of-service to video services and applications. "You're already capable of doing everything the Internet aspires to be," he said. Later, he reset his opinion on the Internet in general, noting that there's a "lull" in innovative services. "I don't care what anyone else says, but the Internet is boring."

Cuban insisted that the tru2way spec itself doesn't need to be changed. Instead, he wants it to be open enough for developers (and regular cable customers) to jump in and create their own applications.

In the follow-up panel, Steve Mace, director of systems technology at the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) , countered that there are literally hundreds of developers creating apps for tru2way and that the industry will again host a tru2way developer's conference at next year's annual confab, set for April 2009 in Washington, D.C.

"There's a big groundswell behind this technology today," Mace said. "I don't think it's closed in terms of the ability for application developers to write applications, [but] it's not a user-generated environment yet. That might be the next step in the evolution of this technology."

And that next step likely won't be reached until after the cable industry can scale the tru2way platform. "There will be some growing pains the industry is going through," said Dave Clark, director of product strategy and management for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s Service Provider Video Technology Group. "The ship has left the dock. It will just take some time to get there."

In the meantime, MSOs will be wary of opening up the gates too wide and allowing in potential "rogue" tru2way apps that could impinge on the network or cause set-tops to crash. That's why, at least for the foreseeable future, cable operators will retain control of which apps end up in front of consumers. The new "distributed" tru2way platform for smaller cable ops headed up by the Comcast Media Center (CMC) and Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), for example, is taking a partnership approach with those who want to join the ecosystem. (See Buckeye First to Test 'HITS AxIS' and CMC Plays Host to iTV.)

Cuban, however, had a suggestion on how cable might be able to open things up a bit more: Why not set aside a slice of 6 MHz spectrum for a "public" tru2way channel?

Later, Mace pondered whether that might be possible through the use of a protected "sandbox" that enables app developers to create and test tru2way applications so as to ensure they not only work but don't impair cable systems and set-tops.

Elsewhere in tru2way world, said Mace, cable is making progress with a retail strategy, noting that we can "expect to hear some good things by the end of this year."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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