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Ascent Media Finds Its Cable VoD Niche

If Ascent Media Group LLC has its way with the cable industry, massive, centralized video on demand (VoD) will no longer be the domain of just Tier 1 operators such as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC).

Ascent, a company that's historically handled post-production work for studios and TV networks, has quietly branched into the world of cable VoD. It's built a national content management service designed to help MSOs aggregate their content centrally and then funnel it to individual systems, to then be loaded onto local video servers.

Although that sounds a lot like the video-optimized content distribution networks (CDNs) that are gaining traction with cable operators, Ascent doesn't operate a CDN. Instead, it offers a Web-based content management and quality control system that can work within the constructs of a CDN or smaller, MSO-operated VoD systems.

Ascent claims it can help MSOs prepare content and have it populate the VoD system within hours and in multiple formats -- the latter part being important as cable continues to target TV Everywhere services that can map subscription video fare to PCs, smartphones, and tablet computers.

The company says its automated VoD asset management system, which was partly born out of the one its studio partners use now, also helps MSOs tie their VoD content with that of third-party libraries, to scale on-demand services to 100,000 titles or more.

Those are the kinds of numbers Comcast is already talking about with Project Infinity, but they have historically been out of the reach of midsized MSOs, which typically operate VoD libraries with 3,000 to 5,000 hours of content that can only be delivered to digital cable boxes. (See Comcast's 'Project Infinity' Takes Flight and Comcast's 'Project Infinity' Takes Flight .)

"Cable operators are realizing that VoD needs to be broader and more dynamic," says Ascent Media SVP Rich Fickle, a former exec with AT&T Broadband (now part of Comcast) who was in charge of the MSO's interactive television and Headend In The Sky (HITS) operations. Tier 2 and 3 MSOs "have repeatedly stated ambitions to be north of 20,000" hours of VoD programming, he adds.

Ascent Media, which would count VoD content management competitors such as Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), and Clearleap , is going centralized with a management platform that can control and track VoD content arriving nationally via satellite, over IP, and even on tape. That same pathway can also be applied locally if an operator, for example, wanted to upload coverage of a local high school football game and graft it to the VoD system.

Fickle says Ascent has relationships with "several hundred" content libraries from groups that offer independent films, international fare, and vintage TV libraries that typically lack the size or wherewithal to go through distribution negotiations with MSOs. Ascent hopes to put those parties together and help to cement those relationships.

Ascent initially is targeting Tier 2 and 3 operators that tend to be more nimble than Tier 1s but generally lack the scale to do this kind of work on their own.

Ascent's VoD management is deployed in 40 markets and is managing more than 10,000 hours of content, says Donna Thomas, a former RealNetworks Inc. (Nasdaq: RNWK) and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) exec who was recently promoted to senior VP of sales for Ascent's cable, telco, and new media initiatives. Ascent has national content management deals in place for two midsized US MSOs but isn't naming them yet.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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