Microsoft Takes Comcast Over the Top

After years of trying -- and mostly failing -- to cozy up to the U.S. cable industry, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) may have finally broken the MSO code thanks to surging interest in TV Everywhere.

Microsoft finds itself in the catbird seat with Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Xfinity TV Online streaming video service after notching an integration deal that will team its PlayReady digital rights management (DRM) technology and IIS Smooth Streaming technology with thePlatform Inc. 's mpx video publishing system. (See Microsoft, thePlatform Team for Online Video .)

Comcast is the first to take advantage of the technology tie-up, marking its migration from an adaptive bit rate player from troubled Move Networks Inc., which was recently bought by EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS). For now, the implementation is limited to on-demand content, though Comcast does have plans to offer live TV to tablets later this year. (See Why Didn't Cisco Buy Move Networks? and EchoStar Buys Move Networks.)

Comcast currently offers more than 4,500 hours of video content on its iPad app, but it was not immediately known how much of that is using Microsoft. Comcast-owned thePlatform also supports DRM and adaptive streaming formats from Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) and Widevine Technologies Inc. (now part of Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)).

"We have been processing terabytes of content ... into this format. It's a major initiative," says Marty Roberts, thePlatform's VP of sales and marketing.

Tablets and PCs today, set-tops and TVs tomorrow?
thePlatform's connection to Microsoft is initially targeted to Web-sourced on-demand video, including some HD-quality content. However, this use of DRM and adaptive streaming could also someday apply to set-tops, particularly as MSOs start to look at hybrid QAM-IP gateways and stand-alone IP set-tops, and perhaps to IP-connected TVs, as well.

"We believe that Microsoft's technology would be a good fit in those environments for IP delivery of content to those set-top boxes," Roberts says.

"I imagine that ... IP set-top boxes and other IP-connected devices would be next in line," adds Gabriele Di Piazza, senior director of strategic marketing for Microsoft's Communications Sector.

Why this matters
The connection to Comcast's Xfinity TV Online platform gives Microsoft the kind of cable win it's been seeking for years, and one that comes after years of trying to get its software into cable set-tops. It even went as far as making a $1 billion investment in Comcast. (See Microsoft Unloads Comcast Stake .)

The agreement is also another significant vote for adaptive streaming, which adjusts bit rate and quality on the fly based on the available bandwidth. Much of that is used for over-the-top video targeted to mobile devices, but there's also significant interest in using it to deliver HD-quality content to set-tops.

For more
For more about Comcast's TV Everywhere efforts and Microsoft's flirtations with cable, please check out these stories:

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 5:08:06 PM
re: Microsoft Takes Comcast Over the Top

you could also... you know... download (progressively)

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 5:08:06 PM
re: Microsoft Takes Comcast Over the Top

That's probably why it hasn't progressed beyond the interest level yet. I've heard a couple of theories to help get around that, but now sure if they'd work in practice, such as starting off with a huge burst of data to fill the buffer and then start adjusting bit rates further down the line (and then hope the quality is still tolerable?). That was one of the big questions i had when there was a lot of scuttlebutt about how MSOs coudl somehow go over the top on each other (someday) and offer subscription video services, including live TV, out of their traditional footprints. But the reasons you point out are good ones to indicate that we'll see this being most useful in the  mobile device domain.  JB

ycurrent 12/5/2012 | 5:08:06 PM
re: Microsoft Takes Comcast Over the Top

When you want HD streaming, you want HD quality. Adaptive streaming is geared more to ensure continuous quality, i.e, no buffering, which is great for live video.  But for premium HD content, especially paid content that is on-demand, adaptive streaming would result in sub-optimal experiences that paying subscribers would likely not tolerate.

paolo.franzoi 12/5/2012 | 5:08:06 PM
re: Microsoft Takes Comcast Over the Top


So, what would be the definition of HD as it was viewed on an iPad?

I have had a number of discussions in the past with some smart folks who view the whole centralized TV viewing model as going away.  If screens get smaller and personal, where does that end up on the bandwidth/display.



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