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Cable/Video

Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO

After a lengthy search, the CableLabs board has appointed Dr. Paul Liao, the chief technology officer of Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) of North America, as the new president and CEO of the Colorado-based cable R&D house, Cable Digital News has learned.

Several industry insiders indicated that an announcement could come late Tuesday, but now it's believed CableLabs will formally go public with its decision sometime Wednesday.

CableLabs declined to comment. Dr. Liao could not be reached for comment via email late Tuesday afternoon. (See Has CableLabs Found Its Man?)

Update: CableLabs, as expected, confirmed Liao's selection on Wednesday morning. "Paul gives us the perfect blend of laboratory and research knowledge, as well as experienced business leadership," CableLabs board chairman and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said, in a statement. "The Board is united in its view that Paul is the right person to lead the laboratory going forward." (See CableLabs Picks Liao as Prez & CEO.) Cable Digital News has been unable to confirm an official starting date for Liao, but Dr. Richard Green, the only person to hold the top post of CableLabs since taking the helm in 1988, has signaled his intention to retire at the end of this year. The release issued this morning notes that Liao will work alongside Green during a "transition period." (See CableLabs Chief Bows Out.)

It's well known that the MSOs behind CableLabs have been keen on hiring a successor from outside the industry rather than selecting a more obvious candidate from cable's traditional, top-level engineering ranks.

Liao fits that profile, but he also knows his way around the cable industry and should give CableLabs and its members some fresh perspective on how cable can work more closely with the consumer electronics (CE) industry.

Panasonic, aided by Liao's influence, has been a valuable CE champion of tru2way, an "open" middleware and headend platform that's expected to herald the availability of interactive, cable-ready digital TVs and set-tops through retail outlets.

For its part, Panasonic has partnered with Comcast on the development of set-tops based on tru2way, as well as two tru2way-certified digital TVs that are for sale in some retail stores in Denver, Chicago, and Atlanta. (See Panny Shows Off Tru2way, Denver, Chicago First to Get Tru2way TVs, and Tru2Way in Atlanta.)

Although Liao has not worked for an MSO, "he is someone who's been in the CE industry for a long time," says a source who is aware of the coming appointment. "If that's the direction the industry is heading with tru2way… he'd be a good leader for that. He knows all the manufacturers and is very involved in all of this stuff at a high level."

And his involvement won't start and stop with tru2way. CableLabs also heads up high-profile specification projects such as Docsis, PacketCable, and advanced advertising.

Those who know Liao say he's "calm" and has the "the right temperament" for a politically charged job at CableLabs that will require him to help find common ground among the world's largest MSOs, vendors, trade organizations, and even some cable competitors that don't always see eye-to-eye with the cable sector's specification efforts. (See Verizon: No Way on tru2way .)

LRTV caught up with Liao at the recent cable show in Washington. During the interview he provides his perspective on tru2way and the role Panasonic is playing in that area.



According to a recent biography, Liao has served on the boards of the Internet Home Alliance and the Information Technology Industry Council, on the Consumer Electronics Association board of industry leaders, and on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) technological advisory council.

Before joining Panasonic, he held a number of positions at Bell Communications Research Inc. and Bell Laboratories. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Columbia University, he is also a fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE) , the American Physical Society, and the Optical Society of America.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

gleapman 12/5/2012 | 4:03:00 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO Get real. You talk about tru2way like it's a real thing and/or that there is some benefit to the consumer. My view is that for now, and for the foreseeable future, tru2way is just a way for the cable companies to rent out even more expensive set-top boxes that will allow them to sell consumers more expensive services and to attempt to sucker the FCC into inaction in an attempt to keep a competitive advantage over satellite tv. The bait part of this bait-and-switch enterprise was that tru2way would allow consumers to get out of renting by buying their own STBs and - the even bigger bait - buy TVs with tru2way built in so no STB would be needed. (All those dramatic headlines in the consumer and trade press that STBs were on their way to extinction.) As they say on SNL...REALLY??? Go to the websites of the major tv manufacturers and type tru2way into the search box. Expect to see a whole bunch of 'No results." Except, of course, on the Panasonic website. There you'll get their two, count 'em two, plasma sets with built-in tru2way. But wait, there's more... It says the sets are available in Atlanta, Chicago and Denver. Well, I live about 8 miles from downtown Denver. So, I enter my zip code and click the 'Locate a store' button and, voila, NOTHING. Not one store in the Denver area sells the sets. I even called customer service and was told, "golly, whatever the website says is all we know." So, off we go to Atlanta. Enter an Atlanta zip code and, voila, NO RESULTS. Now we're on to Chicago. I entered a Chicago zip code. Well, I'll be, there is ONE STORE in Chicago that sells them. Well, not really Chicago. It's a one location store in Glenview, 18 miles from downtown. Well, I sure hope they have a big inventory on hand and a big parking lot because with the promised national rollout of tru2way this summer, this one little store in Glenview, Illinois, will be supplying the entire country with tru2way sets. Light Reading and, as far as I can find, all the other trade 'journalists' have abided by the cable industry's request to "please ignore the man behind the curtain." Anybody in the cable industry care to provide any facts to refute what's written above?
Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 4:02:56 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO I don't think anyone's going to dispute that the retail aspects of tru2way are going to take the absolute longest to come into play, even if they're ever going to come into play at all. As you say, there are only two tru2way-certified sets (both from Panny) and they are tough to find (if downright impossible as your experience shows) to find in those three Comcast markets. I saw them at a local Circuit City briefly, and obviously before that chain went belly up. But I donGÇÖt' think anyone really expected those sets to set any sales records; I think it was an expensive experiment, though it's still questionable whether consumers will be inclined to buy a TV just because it has tru2way. If they want a DVR, they'll still need a box, right?

And there's only one tru2way certified set-top (a set-back box from ADB) and we're still waiting to see when/if Sony will do anything with it. Interestingly some of the newer tru2way entrants, Funai and EchoStar, aren't going to attempt a retail strategy at the start, so that's very telling -- that for the foreseeable future most of the tru2way box distribution will be via the MSOs and not at retail.

But there needs to be a big tru2way network base before retail can even come into play. Some of the big MSOs, as you mention, are getting their headends ready for tru2way by July 1, so that's a big commitment, but just a first step. At the same time, I still think it's still too early to write off tru2way as a retail model. I suspect that we'll see some additional tru2way retail activity later this year, but I think we'll have a better sense of whether tru2way has a true retail future when the 2010 holidays roll around.
netpert 12/5/2012 | 4:02:55 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO

Paul liao is a very selfish, very cunning, dishonest and useless person - he can't act on any thing.  He was  head of Panasonic research  where he filled the labs with his hand picked buddies from telcordia.  He supported culture of  vengeance and dishonesty at  Panasonic Labs in NJ, and there were many cases of discriminations, harrassment etc. filed against Panasonic that Panasonic settled internally before sane people in Japan decided to close all research facilities here. I challenge him to deny that ... So much for his achivement and cool nature - God save cablelabs.

PaulDas 12/5/2012 | 3:59:26 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO


1. Tru2way is all about the java-based software (middleware), not the CabeCARD. (formally known as Open Cable Application Platform – OCAP)


2. Java is 19 years old technology (200 y/o in computers years). Java failed in any real life commercial product, with the exception of toy applications (simple games) and one-of-a-kind special apps. Java is the academia’s favorite language/platform, but it is only good for education and quick demos, not mission-critical applications.


3. The bigwigs that swallowed the tru2way story, did so for the multi-platform promise: Write once, Run anywhere. They simply do not understand software. The cost of software development is in:
  a> Establishing  what the software (app) should do
  b> Developing data-structures, algorithms, user-interface, protocols, etc.
  c> Coding
Java, theoretically, addresses only Coding; however, once you have the app completed on one platform (say, Motorola box), it is cheap and straightforward to port (re-code) the application to whatever other hardware platforms (Cisco/SA, Samsung, Pace, Panasonic, EchoStar, etc.) Witness the gaming industry; they do it all the time.


4. In order to save the little cost of porting the application (Guide/VOD) from box A to box B, which can be done quickly by a small team, the geniuses at CableLabs adopted Java-based OCAP, that adds to millions of boxes the cost of memory, CPU and royalties. If tru2way/OCAp cost extra $50 for each box, then do the math how much it cost to outfit millions of boxes with the technology. Compare it to paying 8 software engineers to port the (C/C++) application in 4 month from box A to Box B (remember, it’s only coding/porting, not developing the application!)


5. Designed for obsolescent: It is 10 years struggle to make OCAP (tru2way) platform run the basic Guide/VOD applications. The hardware cost is high. Today’s available products can barely run today’s apps (users report slower performance than legacy boxes).  Any enhancement to the applications will:
  a. either will  not happen, because 2009 hardware cannot handle more, or
  b. will be incompatible with today’s hardware; hence generating multiple versions (!) of each app and many unhappy customers.


6. Computer-science first?   OCAP/tru2way promises to deliver TV applications on the fly, such as voting/polling, commercial-specific apps, etc. It means that the technology should: Download, allocate resources (memory, file handles, etc.), instantiate, execute, then de-allocate memory, etc. all in REAL TIME!  This was NEVER done in computer science history. It cannot be done in Java.


7. All in all, tru2way (OCAP) was born as a tactic to fool the FCC that the Motorola/Cisco duopoly will end and retail Digital-Cable-Ready solutions will be available. Then, some industry executives fell for it.


8. SOFTWARE platforms are always created and controlled by monopolies. There are no examples in history that a complex SOFTWARE platform or an Operation System, designed by a committee, did well in the wild. Multiple-implementation “software platforms” do not allow applications to float between them. Conversely, applications can be ported (re-coded) to run on multiple platforms.


9. Tru2way is bad for:
  a.  Cableco’s, because it confines their innovation and takes away their box-rentals cash cow.
  b. CE manufacturers, because it limits their ability to product-differentiate, while just adds cost to their products (see TiVo cold feet re tru2way)
  c. Consumers, because they will have to pay for the hardware & license, just to “save” the Cableco’s cost of porting their Guide code; Meanwhile customers will see their Cable box stuck in time (200 years), while non-Java solutions move ahead at the speed of the computer industry.


10. Tru2way faith?  It will live, but after a surgery to remove its OCAP (Java) heart.

Jeff Baumgartner 12/5/2012 | 3:59:23 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO

As our just release report on tru2way seems to indicate, the retail model that tru2way is supposed to foster is going a whole lot of nowhere fast these days, especially as TV makers opt to create models that go over the top with their own software and high-speed broadband connections. Meanwhile, all of the companies that are making tru2way boxes (other than the usual suspects like Moto, Cisco, and Pace) aren't planning to go retail but anticipate selling those boxes directly to MSOs.


At the same time, it doesn't look like U.S. cable MSOs (at least the larger ones) are about to abandon tru2way...it looks like they have every intention to use it to drive their itv strategies.


You make some interesting points here, though. At the end, you mention that you think tru2way will live on but only after the OCAP middleware component is ripped out.  What are you suggesting they'll do instead? Port all the apps to the different, underlying set-top operating systems and not mess with a middleware? I'm curious to hear what direction you think the cable guys will go in if it's not with OCAP.


Jeff


 

PaulDas 12/5/2012 | 3:59:22 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO


As the name ‘tru2way’ will live, the underlining technology must change from OCAP/Java to something else.

In my opinion, resident applications, such as the Guide, VOD, DVR and other unbound goodies (non-channel related apps) should most economically be written natively for each platform. With a common Linux OS and well written C++, any resident app can easily be moved to dozens of hardware platforms. 

On-the-fly applications, which are content related (ex. voting), can use either EBIF, Adobe FLASH, Yahoo Widgets or any of the commonly use Internet technologies (example: Ajax).

It is much cheaper to port an existing application from one platform to a dozen other platforms, than outfitting hundreds of millions of boxes and TVs with the behemoth OCAP’s “Virtual Machine” (AKA Java).  Let’s say that it cost $1M to port an EXISTING application from box A to platform B. It will cost $24M to have the app running on 2 dozens platforms. It is estimated that OCAP cost $50 extra each box; hence it will cost Billion$ to deploy it across America (3 boxes each household…)

BTW: have you noticed that although TWC claims millions of OCAP/tru2way boxes deployed, Panasonic’s tru2way TV is only available for Comcast’s customers, while not offered at TWC territories?  What happened to the MAIN promise of OCAP? If tru2way standard is truly a portable standard, then a retail tru2way product should work on Comcast network as well as on Time Warner’s!


 

BillShepp 12/5/2012 | 3:58:58 PM
re: Panasonic's Liao Is New CableLabs CEO

PaulDas, your post is misguided.


> Java is 19 years old technology (200 y/o in computers years).


The form of Java used in tru2way is roughly ten years old, though has been continually updated since then.  Besides, "C" and Unix make up much of the backbone of computing worldwide, and are both nearly 40 years old.  What's your point?


> Java failed in any real life commercial product, with the exception of toy applications (simple games) and one-of-a-kind special apps. Java is the academia’s favorite language/platform, but it is only good for education and quick demos, not mission-critical applications.


You're not even close on this one. Every application on the Blackberry is a Java app, and few of the thousands of apps are simple games. Stock exchanges and brokerages worldwide depend on Java software for their trading; much of eBay's infrastructure is Java-based.  The list of signficant, critical, real-world Java apps is nearly endless.


> In order to save the little cost of porting the application (Guide/VOD) from box A to box B, which can be done quickly by a small team


You completely trivialize the real challenges by suggesting a small team can quickly port apps.  Look at Comcast, for instance - until recently they've had predominantly Motorola set-top boxes running relatively similar operating systems and processors, yet managing software application integrity across the matrix of models and firmware versions is a nightmare of testing and integration. Time Warner Cable is in a similar position, but with Scientific Atlanta / Cisco boxes instead of Motorola.  There's far more to it than just porting an app.  Now that we're seeing multiple processor architectures, operating systems, and a much wider range of system capabilities (such as DVR's and home networking) it's exponentially harder to manage.  While it doesn't completely solve the integration challenge, tru2way at least provides a coherent set of platform-independent API's for developers to target.  And how do you suggest content providers offer bound applications (carried with the programming) in your world - include 20 or 30 versions of the app for every conceivable STB?


> the geniuses at CableLabs adopted Java-based OCAP, that adds to millions of boxes the cost of memory, CPU and royalties. If tru2way/OCAp cost extra $50 for each box, then do the math how much it cost to outfit millions of boxes with the technology.


Java support adds nowhere near $50 worth of processor, memory requirements, or royalties to the box.  Probably not even 10% of that number in most cases.


> It means that the technology should: Download, allocate resources (memory, file handles, etc.), instantiate, execute, then de-allocate memory, etc. all in REAL TIME!  This was NEVER done in computer science history. It cannot be done in Java.


What are you TALKING about?!? It's done every day on hundreds of different platforms.



> SOFTWARE platforms are always created and controlled by monopolies. There are no examples in history that a complex SOFTWARE platform or an Operation System, designed by a committee, did well in the wild.


Umm, Linux?  Firefox?  OpenOffice?  MySQL?  There are dozens of examples.


I don't know from where your anti-Java vendetta arises, but while there are multiple challenges to getting tru2way widely deployed, few of these challenges are related to Java. The same platform tru2way is based upon works very well in Korea, whether on cable (tru2way), IPTV (GEM-IPTV), or satellite (MHP).  All are Java-based and mostly interoperable, and all the major service providers in Korea have deployed one of these flavors. Further, Blu-ray Disc is based on the same Java platform, and (with occasional exceptions) any title released today runs just fine across the ~100 different models of Blu-ray players which have been released.



Bill Sheppard


Sun Microsystems

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