BOSTON -- The Cable Show -- This year's event, as usual, ran the gamut of cable technology, programming and policy. I'll leave the regulatory wonks to wade through the policy rhetoric, but after taking a day to reflect on what I saw and heard here this week, I offer a list of my big takeaways from and reactions to the show:
1. Comcast's X1 is a bellwether
Comcast Corp.'s coming launch of the X1 platform in Boston was a focal point at the show and will likely be viewed as the beginning of cable's next-generation video era of agile cloud-based interfaces that will extend not just to TVs, but to tablets, smartphones and PCs. It also marks cable's migration to more IP-based video. Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated the service at last year's cable confab, but this week's event was about the here-and-now and not the what-is-to-be.
2. TiVo's not afraid
During my visit to the TiVo Inc. booth, CEO Tom Rogers heaped some praise on Comcast's X1, as a "big step forward." But he remarked that the X1 offers only a small amount of broadband-fed content here in the early going, while TiVo already provides a lot of what X1 does, plus a sizable menu of over-the-top content from sources like Netflix Inc. and Hulu LLC. TiVo's blended content play "organizes the chaos" for consumers, he said.
Rogers was also unconcerned about Comcast's plans to expand its broadband usage ceiling and to test usage-based policies. "They have the right to differentiate and meter it," he said of Comcast's cable modem service. Of course, TiVo and the cable industry (with Time Warner Cable Inc. being the exception) are more friendly than ever these days, so I guess I should not expect Rogers to make a big fuss about it.
3. Cable hearts Wi-Fi
If it wasn't already obvious before, this week's big roaming deal among five major operators shows that cable's making a huge bet on Wi-Fi. While these wireless broadband deployments will help them keep cable modem customers happy, the strategy will also provide cellular traffic offload and give cable an alternative way to deliver voice services.
4. Docsis/EPoC tension is building
Arris Group Inc., Cisco Systems Inc. and Motorola Mobility Inc. urged the industry to develop a next-generation Docsis platform (Docsis 4.0?) that they claim would match the performance of the budding EPON Protocol Over Coax (EPoC) standard. No one is casting any stones out in the open, but all of our private conversations indicate that there is a technical and political battle brewing as the Docsis vendors look to protect their business in cable's next-gen access world, while a larger legion of Ethernet players and EPoC wannabees hope to stake their claim on what's coming next for cable access.
Does this mean cable will face a fork in the road and have to make a tough decision, or can these efforts live in harmony? We'll see. We are also hearing from some cable operators that the cause for these tensions is overblown. We'll have more on that soon.
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