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Multi-Screen Mania Poses New Challenges

Light Reading
LR Cable Opinion
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The cable industry is meeting the introduction of broadband-connected tablets and other IP video-capable devices in quick order by extending cable programming to iPads, smart TVs and other connected devices. But as multi-screen options proliferate with more devices and content, challenges will multiply.

Each device platform has its own unique requirements for video formats, resolutions, user entitlements, digital rights management (DRM), metadata, billing, subscriber management and business policies. For cable operators and programmers, handling all of these pieces is like putting together a gigantic jigsaw puzzle.

Cable will increasingly need comprehensive solutions that manage the wide variety of unique characteristics of each distribution avenue and device platform, according to a new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, Cable's Tablet Habit Will Lead to a Management Headache.

On the technical side, advances in adaptive bit rate, bandwidth management and transcoding technologies will help cable weather the storm of multiple content streams. But, the report says, cable headends and data centers will increasingly require automated processes and back-office management solutions to ensure proper handling of content and services across both traditional cable platforms and the growing universe of connected devices.

Rather than coalescing, the requirements around digital content are multiplying and fragmenting, the report says. During an SCTE Cable-Tec Expo panel on the subject last fall, one speaker described the cable environment as expanding into "multi-screen, multi-user and multi-delivery." Another noted the increasing market fragmentation due to multiple streaming technologies, multiple DRMs, inertia against standards coalescence and back-office systems that have not kept pace.

Cable network programmers are also struggling with a growing thicket of challenges involving streaming, DRM and metadata, in addition to business rights issues with their cable operator affiliates and program producers. Content providers need rights enforcement, service providers need operational efficiency, and consumers need a convenient user experience.

Many suppliers are offering systems to address cable's multi-screen aspirations, from all-encompassing software suites to more narrowly defined products. Systems are emerging for both multiple system operators (MSOs) and content providers to handle the criteria required for successfully distributing to various platforms. They enable technicians to get a comprehensive view of content criteria, including the video formatting, metadata, DRM and business policies, all of which can help to ensure that users get a high-level quality of experience.

The report explores cable's interest in IP video and the requirements for management solutions. It includes exclusive Heavy Reading survey data about cable's interest in IP video and descriptions of solutions offered by 16 companies that are addressing management requirements in various ways.

While new management solutions are available, MSOs do not appear to be adopting them consistent with the pace of their multi-screen deployments. The report says that the increasing need to serve multiple screens, as well as cable's interest in eventual migration to all-IP service delivery, demands that MSOs take a holistic approach to managing content device requirements on a mass scale.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider

This report, "Cable's Tablet Habit Will Lead to a Management Headache," is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

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