Show organizers will attempt to demonstrate that cable's got it all covered with a My World – Powered by Cable exhibit that's being modeled after a Hollywood backlot. It'll feature an array of hands-on demos of cable apps and services that are available today or are expected to be soon, including some "green" home energy systems, social TV apps, cross-platform TV, and integrated, souped-up voice services.
While the exhibit's sure to be full of bells and whistles and will attempt to roll cable's cool stuff into one snazzy package, here's Light Reading Cable's list of topics and technology categories that we think will be driving this year's cable confab:
IP here, IP there, IP everywhere
It was apparent at last fall's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Denver that cable's migration to IP video is a when, not if, scenario. (See SCTE Expo: MSOs Prep IPTV Push .)
Although much of those moves are still in the early phases, this week's show should offer a snapshot on what progress has been made since then, in terms of what the MSOs are doing just now, and how network and home-side equipment is evolving and changing to help cable tune in to IPTV.
Tuesday afternoon's tech panel should provide an update on the MSOs' current progress, as it features CTOs and technical brass from Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC), Cox Communications Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), and Suddenlink Communications .
The panel is sure to provide an update of where they are with IP video (or at least why they think it's important), though we don't expect Comcast and TWC to reference their internal IP video projects -- "Excalibur" and "Longfellow" -- by name. (See Comcast Forges 'Excalibur' for IPTV and TWC Taps Microsoft Mediaroom for IPTV Test .)
It may also be too early for the show to be brimming with new IP-capable, do-it-all transport gateways, but we'll be looking for some early evidence from suppliers such as Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT), Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) , Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Pace plc , and Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS).
We'll also keep an eye out on the network side to see if we come across some early next-gen cable modem termination system (CMTS) and edge QAM demos that conform to the product specifications envisioned by Comcast's IP-fueled Converged Multiservice Access Platform (CMAP) project.
Among the cable vendors, Arris will be showing off elements of a cable-tailored IP video infrastructure that touches cable networks and reaches inside customer homes. (See Cox Adds Weight to Comcast's Big Box Project and Arris Shows 'IP Video Architecture' for Cable .)
TV on tap
Related to cable's migration to IP is "TV Everywhere," the industry's way of defending against over-the-top video and enhancing MSO video subscription packages with secure ways for customers to access premium video on the PC, and (eventually) via smartphones and other mobile, broadband-connected devices.
Comcast has taken the US cable lead with Xfinity TV, starting off with a PC-bound service, but with promises of mobile extensions later this year. Although Time Warner Cable has some tests up and running too, the rest of the industry has been a bit slower in getting their strategies off the ground. Hopefully, the show will provide a platform for others to update on their plans. (See Comcast's 'Xfinity' to Go Mobile in 2010 .)
We'll also be keeping an eye on EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS) and its line of "SlingLoaded" boxes, which are expected to factor into TV Everywhere and gain initial traction with Tier 2 and Tier 3 MSOs. Will Charlie Ergen's technology and set-top spinoff break the cable deployment seal at this year's show? (See EchoStar: We're Cable's Answer .)
Taking Title II to task
As at all cable shows, regulatory implications will be front and center this week. But perhaps they'll be pushed higher up the agenda than usual because this year's confab comes in the wake of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) 's announcement that it plans to reassert its authority over broadband by retaining its Title I (information services) hold and adding some relatively light-handed Title II (common carrier) elements to the equation. (See Did the Market Overreact? and FCC Declares War on Broadband .)
The cable sector has already responded by expressing some disappointment about the FCC's expected pursuit of some Title II authority, but has also indicated that it will try to work with the FCC to see if its proposed "Third Way" approach on broadband regulations can work without upsetting the apple cart too much.
But cable can't be too upset about the regulatory environment these days. The FCC has proposed a new rule that would allow MSOs to deploy cheap HD-capable Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices with embedded security. (See FCC Inches Towards Net-Agnostic Gateways.)
And, late last week, the Commission granted a waiver that would permit, on a limited basis, the use of so-called "selectable output control" (SOC), which would disable the video out audio outputs on set-top boxes and prevent them from recording some premium content.
Cable wants that because enabling SOC could allow them to offer movies via video-on-demand even closer to their theatrical release, and charge customers a nice premium for that right. Some consumer electronics interests have railed against SOC, claiming a waiver would dampen demand for set-tops, TVs, and other customer premises gear. (See Cable Catchup .)
Given the FCC's give and take with cable on the regulatory front, new Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski will likely get a warm welcome when he delivers a keynote to showgoers on Thursday morning.
What's next for tru2way?
Although there's a big question mark hanging over tru2way's role at retail now that the FCC is pursuing a cross-industry approach with the "AllVid" initiative, news of tru2way's death has been greatly exaggerated. (See All About the FCC's AllVid.)
That's partly because the top six US incumbent MSOs are making a significant investment in tru2way, the cable sector's own common set-top middleware and headend platform initiative. Some of those MSOs, including Cox and Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), have already completed the headend-readiness piece, and Cox is preparing to use a tru2way-powered guide as the centerpiece of its next-gen video effort. (See Cox Guides Tru2way Forward, Cox to Offer Tru2way Guide to Others, and Cable's Tru2way Build Continues.)
So don't wave good-bye to tru2way yet. It's got legs -- probably not at retail, but possibly as the applications foundation for some of the larger domestic cable MSOs. And we'll get a better picture of how that apps ecosystem is being fleshed out at this week's show.
We're already seeing some early evidence of that, with itaas Inc. , for example, announcing a tru2way-based Twitter app that Bright House Networks is testing. (See Itaas Does Twitter for Tru2way.)
Spiffed for EBIF
Tru2way is where MSOs (at least the biggies, anyway) are heading on interactivity, but Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF), which runs on cable's entire universe of set-tops, is a better representative of the here and now. And we expect to see a lot of EBIF-related news this week regarding new apps, integrations, partnerships, and maybe even some launches.
We also expect to hear more details on Canoe Ventures LLC 's plan to launch a national, EBIF-powered interactive ad campaign sometime this summer.
Canoe, the cross-MSO advanced advertising joint venture, reportedly will offer its first public look at spots that use its request-for-information (RFI) "template," and provide more details on how it intends to apply its technology to a national VoD advertising platform.
Whipping up some wireless
Most of the major MSOs have started to establish their wireless strategies, whether they are with WiMax, WiFi, or 3G, with a ramp to Long Term Evolution (LTE) -- or with a mix of those.
Tuesday afternoon's wireless panel with execs from Comcast, TWC, Cox, Cablevision, and BendBroadband , should push that story forward a bit.
We'll be paying close attention to what Cox VP of wireless strategy and development Stephen Bye has to say about commercial launch plans following Cox's recent confirmation that it is delivering services to "friendlies" in Hampton Roads, Va., and Orange County, Calif. (See Cox Finds Friends for 3G Wireless Trials in Omaha .)
Never mind the puppies -- here's 3DTV
Cable folks who attended this show when cable was just getting digital video services off the ground in the late 1990s will likely remember the flood of super-niche networks that emerged, all hoping to own a portion of new bandwidth coming way of massive cable upgrades.
If you remember The Puppy Channel, then you remember how segmented and fragmented those video ambitions were. And if you don't remember, it's still around, but relegated to the Web rather than your local cable TV lineup. And perhaps that's all for the better...
The buzz these days is with 3DTV, a service that's being pursued by cable operators, telcos, and satellite-TV operators, and one that's sure to get its fair share of attention this week.
But does 3DTV represent the next big landgrab for cable networks? Probably not. Much of 3DTV is still event driven, and before standards are settled, don't expect a flurry of full-time linear networks or a flood of on-demand 3DTV offerings to emerge, even though ESPN and Discovery Communications Inc. (Nasdaq: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) have already planted their 3DTV stakes into the ground
Expect a few networks to talk about 3DTV plays at this week's show, but expect most of the news to be technical in nature -- boxes supporting new 3DTV firmware, guides and interactive apps with 3DTV capabilities, and other less sexy things that help balance some of the 3DTV hype with a dab of substance. (See Moto Set-Tops Get Some 3D Smarts and Comcast Courts Early 3DTV Adopters.)
The 10-4 on D3
Nothing earth-shattering is expected on the Docsis 3.0 front at the show, now that MSOs big and small are into the deployment phase.
The show could give a domestic operator reason to announce a Docsis 3.0 service that would leap ahead of Suddenlink's limited deployment of a 107-Mbit/s broadband offering. More newsworthy, though, would be an operator announcing a deployment (or even a field trial) of upstream channel bonding. (See Suddenlink Unleashes 107-Meg Wideband Tier.)
So, those are the topics and technologies that are expected to take center stage this week, though we're hoping for a few surprises, too.
Be sure to check out our Cable Show site during the week for breaking news, video interviews, and our ongoing coverage of the sessions.
In the meantime, here's a roundup of the pre-show news that's already making the rounds:
- Arris Shows 'IP Video Architecture' for Cable
- Comcast Unit Puts EBIF in 3D
- Rovi Brings TotalGuide to Cable
- Cox Launches Cisco's Whole-Home DVR
- Cablevision Adds ActiveVideo Apps
- Comcast Media Center Adds Fiber to HITS Diet
- Moto QAM Goes Universal
- FourthWall Adds ITV Ad Partner
- Cisco, Zodiac Interact on Tru2way
- Itaas Does Twitter for Tru2way
- Arris Expands Server Line for CDNs, Small VoD
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable