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Time Warner Cable Hints at Video CDN Plan

Jeff Baumgartner
LR Cable News Analysis
Jeff Baumgartner
10/19/2010
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NEW ORLEANS -- CTAM Summit 2010 -- Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) is developing a video-optimized content distribution network (CDN) that will store all the MSO's on-demand content in two master locations before pushing titles out to regional and division locations.

Judi Allen, TWC's VP of programming strategy and business development, referenced those plans here Monday afternoon at a video-on-demand (VoD) panel, presenting a slide that showed how two MSO-managed, centralized libraries would ingest all the content, and then be linked to six regional caches, and 65 divisional streaming locations on Time Warner Cable's network.

Allen didn’t offer a deployment time frame for that plan, but noted that the MSO was to develop it "over time" as it created a more efficient means to store and deliver content to customers.

Light Reading Cable has previously speculated that TWC had such a CDN plan underway -- tying in with a broader trend in which cable operators are creating their own CDNs or hooking into those operated by third parties, such as Avail-TVN -- as they seek ways to push video cross-platform and compete with Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and other over-the-top threats. (See Cable Thinking Big With Video-Focused CDNs and Avail-TVN Bankrolls $30M TV Everywhere Play.)

Time Warner Cable's approach appears to share similarities with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and its "Project Infinity" initiative. Comcast's CDN is already operating at scale in its "Freedom Region" (which includes Philadelphia and the Cherry Hill, N.J., area), with Washington, D.C., to follow. But rather than having two central libraries (with one perhaps providing backup to the other), as in the TWC scenario, Comcast is believed to be considering four libraries that would each ingest and hold all the content, and then distribute titles closer to the edge, based on their popularity. (See Comcast's 'Project Infinity' Takes Flight .)

Word of some details about TWC's project comes the week after the MSO, along with Comcast Interactive Capital , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), and others revealed its investment in BNI Video , a video back-office startup that has a CDN manager on its product menu. SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), which counts several MSOs as customers, is also upgrading its back-office platform along similar lines. (See Cable Guys Buck Up for BNI Video and SeaChange Gives VoD a Shot of 'Adrenalin' .)

But a new type of video distribution network is just one project TWC has underway to help customers find content, as VoD titles swell to tens of thousands of titles.

Allen said TWC is working on a wide range of new navigation tools for set-tops, including new search capabilities with graphics-based movie-box art (versus just title text and descriptive metadata), and an "On Demand Portal" that will likely show up next year.

TWC is also shifting more VoD product focus on the Web, complete with access to trailers, an integrated recommendation engine, and a stars-based rating system.

Marty Roberts, VP of sales and marketing for Comcast-owned thePlatform Inc. , said the Web offers cable a great way to experiment with video. "On the Internet, innovation is cheap compared to the cable plant today," he said, noting that his company manages 7 million to 8 million titles per day.

While the Web offers customers a nice tool to search for video and a way for some clips to go viral, Roberts isn't completely sold on video recommendations that come through social networks such as Facebook.

Facebook's "Like" function, he warned, has not always been good at driving solid recommendations. "Some of my friends watch some pretty bad TV that I don't want to watch," he joked. "Social recommendation engines are still a big question mark."

But he was more positive about Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s new TV product and its ability to add new search capabilities to the viewing experience. "Google TV will be a fascinating experiment to watch," he said. (See Google TV Guns for Cable Deals .)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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