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Cable Co-Op Boots Up TV Everywhere Project

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner

A cable organization best known for striking bulk deals for cable programming and technology for Tier 2/3 MSOs and telcos is branching out into the world of TV Everywhere.

The National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC) , Light Reading Cable has learned, has launched a plan to create a centralized authentication platform for multi-screen services like HBO Go or those planned around the the 2012 Summer Olympics in London.

An authentication system, in this sense, would ensure that customers that try to log into an MSO's TV Everywhere offering via a PC or an iPad are indeed cable TV subscribers and are authorized to view the particular piece of content they have requested.

Several large and mid-sized MSOs have created their own authentication systems for TV Everywhere or are working in tandem with a company like Synacor Inc. to build content portals and develop TV Everywhere interfaces with individual programmers. But that still leaves hundreds of cable operators out there that don't have the resources to build their own system or are not quite big enough to make it worthwhile for one vendor to take them on individually.

The NCTC hopes its aggregated approach will create economies of scale for its MSO members and for TV Everywhere vendors. Instead of forcing hundreds of individual operators to make requests to launch HBO Go, for example, there's an opportunity for the NCTC "to create a bridge, or a common platform" to authenticate their customers for HBO content to be delivered to PCs, tablets and other IP-connected devices, says NCTC VP of Technology Alan Tschirner.

From plan to action
NCTC's investigation into the TV Everywhere area began in July under the direction of new CEO Rich Fickle, and the idea has now reached the "action" phase, Tschirner adds. "We need to understand this [TV Everywhere] business, how we get this to our customers, and how much this going to cost us." (See NCTC Hires CEO.)

The project has yet to reach the RFI/RFP stage, but NCTC has retained Pepe Digital, a firm run by former Ascent Media Group LLC execs, to consult on the project. Internally, the NCTC is creating a TV Everywhere "matrix" that will be filled up with various vendors that make up the components of the TV Everywhere ecosystem, including Avail-TVN , Clearleap , NeuLion Inc. and EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS), among others. An industry source familiar with the aims of the project believes companies such as Openet Telecom Ltd. and Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) could end up in the mix, too. (See 'Adobe Pass' Targets TV Everywhere.)

Tschirner says the NCTC is discussing ideas across the board -- with cable operator members, programmers and subscriber management/billing vendors -- to figure out how to help out the largest cross section of the co-op's membership of nearly 1,000 pay-TV operators.

The NCTC has yet to decide if it or a third party will operate the system that emerges from that work. However, the initial aim won't involve elements like content delivery, transcoding or metadata. "Our first pass at this is focused on the authentication/authorization toolset," Tschirner says.

And he says the NCTC is not out to compete with a company like Synacor, which has been successful in developing service portals and TV Everywhere interfaces for some mid- and small-sized cable operators, including Charter Communications Inc. and Grande Communications . (See Grande, Synacor Strike TV Everywhere Deal and Synacor Sizes Up ‘TV Everywhere’ .)

"We're talking about a division of what Synacor offers, but they're not interested in only doing the part we're looking to do," Tschirner says, noting that anything the NCTC comes up on the TV Everywhere front won't be compulsory, but an option for its membership. "Avail it to yourself, if it fits your model."

And it's still got work to do before it's ready to present an action plan to NCTC members. Depending on how its discussions with vendors and programmers progress, the NCTC hopes to announce something more concrete about its TV Everywhere initiative by the end of this year or by the organization's Winter Educational Conference in late February 2012.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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