CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

LAS VEGAS -- 2011 International CES -- Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) today launched Videoscape, a sort of super TV Everywhere, blending TV, over-the-top (OTT) content, and mobile access.

Cisco's core idea is to unify the fragmentation that's evolved around Internet video, getting the network to smooth over the differences in devices (handsets vs. TV sets, for instance) and to recognize automatically what programming a household has paid for. "Now you can see the play that we're going to make. We think it is very intuitive on where the market has to go," Cisco CEO John Chambers said.

It's a complicated, ambitious plan, one that Chambers said will require the participation of service providers. (Telstra Corp. Ltd. (ASX: TLS; NZK: TLS) is already using it, delivering content to TVs without the help of a set-top box.)

It's also an extension of the Medianet concept Cisco has been pitching. (See Cisco's Video Ambitions Go Network-Wide.)

Videoscape comes in three pieces, split among five product families:
  • Videoscape Media Suite: the management piece
  • Cisco Conductor for Videoscape: a real-time messaging architecture that connects the TV to the network, useful for receiving stock prices; contacting a support desk; or social networking
  • Three families of client devices: media gateways, IP set-top boxes, and software clients.

Conductor might be the most important piece here, but first, the flashy stuff.

The heart of Videoscape is the TV experience. Menus on the TV allow searches by content, and the results come up in three columns: regular TV/DVR content; Web content; and personal/social videos. To share a video, a viewer can plug a Flip camera into the Videoscape media gateway; the video automatically gets uploaded to the My Network column and can be sent to others (through ūmi personal videoconferencing, for instance).

The software clients are the key to Videoscape's TV Everywhere aspects. A client can replicate the Videoscape three-column TV screen on a mobile device, for instance, and the viewer can grab any of the video that would have been available on the TV. The network would be responsible for transcoding.

The key here is that the service provider would be in control; Cisco is supplying Videoscape as more of a tool than a service. That means Cisco wouldn't be subjected to the roadblocks facing Google TV, namely, content providers blocking their programs from the service.

Cisco Conductor is where the real magic happens, though. It's an architecture that unifies all of the back-end functions in the network -- authentication, rights management and billing, among others. It's like one massive Service Provider Information Technology (SPIT) mediator.

"If you're a service provider, you really need to stop thinking about spending hundreds of millions of dollars on all these applications individually," said Enrique Rodriguez, senior VP of the service provider technology group. Cisco's intention is to make video access more unified, the way that consumers think of the Internet as one big thing. "You don't build the Internet for one application."

Telstra's example aside, Cisco expects most early Videoscape installations to come through the media gateway, which would become like a receiver for the Internet cloud, Rodriguez said. Later, manufacturers might integrate the technology directly into TV sets.

— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading

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Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:16:09 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

This is a lot more ambitious than I was expecting. Basically Cisco wants to offer service providers a new type of pay TV package -- one that the service providers would run and control, but one that's bought entirely from Cisco.

It all really does come back to switches and routers. But it could change the public face of Cisco considerably.

So -- what's the verdict? Would this be a way for service providers to upend the TV model? And is it the right direction for Cisco?

scottdTBR 12/5/2012 | 5:16:07 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Hey Craig - I'm curious as to how simple/complex the user interface is. Would there be a learning curve for customers upgrading to this over their current TV package?

scottdTBR 12/5/2012 | 5:16:06 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Thanks. That's interesting about the advertising. I would expect to see service providers offer different pricing levels based on how many ads would get pushed to the consumer - i.e. consumer pays more per month to see less ads.

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:16:06 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

The user interface looked really simple -- keeping in mind that this was just a demo. It's basically an expanded version of an on-screen guide. Cisco says the idea was to avoid any learning curve.

Now, the interface happens to do a lot of things automatically. They used an example where Chambers and his "cousin" were sending videos back and forth; the videos immediately show up in your on-screen TV guide. That's nice, but I've also found that the more things an interface does automatically, the more annoying it gets when you happen to try something out of the ordinary.

Then there's the big-brother aspect. One of the supposed strengths here is that the service provider can play off of all the billing and subscriber info it's already got from you, resulting in things like more targeted ads (meaning, ads that are more targeted, and more *of* them).  I'm not sure I like the sound of that.

upand2theright 12/5/2012 | 5:16:04 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

At least 40 boxes ... if the picture in your story ... is correct.  Networks are complicated.   But that's a lot of moving parts, Craig.  Do carriers really need all that gear to run a video service?  More important, how much does a Cisco Videoscape solution cost?

Cutting through the clutter.  Cisco announced a video architecture, a home gateway, and a new hybrid set-top box.   Mostly powered by the same Cisco hardware from SA.

I thought the demo was good.   But I would like to hear more about the software.   That's differentiating piece going forward  Not the hardware.  How many people and what kind of investment is Cisco making in video software for cheaper, more cost-effective transport.  That's the more interesting question.




ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 5:16:01 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Thus far, the real innovation from a technology perspective is in the software... and the critical piece - Cisco Conductor - won't be available for another year.

Meanwhile, Videoscape needs to overcome key roadblocks, such as 1) getting content owners to agree to new business models and storage/cache arrangements for their content, and 2) getting service providers to digest an all-Cisco solution.

Solving the business issues is always harder than solving the technology issues, and in this case the technology is not even fully baked.

upand2theright 12/5/2012 | 5:16:00 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Heard Cisco Videoscape won't be productized for 1-2 years.

Cisco conductor ... 18 months out?   Damn ... that demo was sweet



DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:16:00 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Actually, the answer is even more cloudly than that. Cisco is selling this through service provider partners, so it's up to those companies to customize the platform, make it their own, integrate it, and bring it to market.

In other words, most consumers in most of the world will never see this at all. But thousands, maybe millions, of service provider customers in different places will see Videoscape -- or something based on it -- within a year.

DCITDave 12/5/2012 | 5:15:59 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Also, FYI, we posted a video demo here:


Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 5:15:57 PM
re: CES: Cisco Unveils Master Plan for Video

Sorry, also meant to mention: Cisco says Conductor makes use of the ExtendMedia acquisition:

Cisco Buys Into TV Everywhere (Again)

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