Cablevision Eyes All-Digital Future
Cablevision's analog customers aren't affected by this move, but any new customers wanting the expanded basic tier will have to get it in digital form. Additionally, Comcast's digital subscribers will continue to receive available analog simulcasts on TVs that receive programming directly from a cable outlet.
Even so, Cablevision's intended all-digital shift may not be that far off. At last check, more than 91 percent of Cablevision's 3.1 million video subscribers already get digital service. Only about 5 percent receive the MSO's analog expanded basic service.
Cablevision's expanded basic tier includes about 60 channels, but that number will continue to drop as the MSO eliminates some analog feeds.
Once Cablevision is able to go all-digital, it will have access to gobs of new spectrum for more HD, video-on-demand (VoD), linear networks, and extra channels for the speedier Docsis 3.0 platform. For now, Cablevision carries 70 hi-def channels, more than 4,000 VoD titles, and a 12-channel tier of international programming. On the high-speed Internet front, it's getting ready to launch its first Docsis 3.0-based wideband cable modem service. (See Cablevision Says to Watch for Wideband.)
Digital road not always smooth
Cablevision's digital progress is quite an accomplishment considering the operator's initial fits and starts. Rather than go with set-top boxes and conditional access (CA) from dominant players Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) or Scientific Atlanta (now part of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)), Cablevision originally opted for a digital video system that tied powerful (and pricey) Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) boxes and network gear with the NDS Ltd. CA.
Cablevision and Sony announced the $1 billion-plus deal in 1999, but the MSO shifted gears in the fall of 2002, agreeing to deploy Scientific Atlanta's set-tops and digital headends. Cablevision preserved its use of the NDS CA via Smartcards, thus avoiding total reliance on the Motorola-SA/Cisco set-top security duopoly.
These days, Cablevision's digital strategy centers on a new downloadable conditional access system and the NDS "key ladder." Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) and LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) have already signed on to develop boxes for the project. (See Nagra Critical of Cablevision Security Plan, Cablevision Scores Set-Top Waiver Extension , and Cablevision Seeks Extended Security Waiver.)
Sending in the cavalry
Cablevision, which is also using switched digital video (SDV) to keep its bandwidth needs in check, is the first major U.S. cable MSO to force all new customers to buy expanded basic service in digital format. (See Cablevision Switches With BigBand.)
Comcast has a similar initiative underway with its Project Cavalry, reclaiming as many as 60 analog channels in the expanded basic tier but still leaving roughly 30 channels in analog form. Comcast has started or completed this transition in the San Francisco Bay Area; Portland and Salem, Ore; Seattle and other parts of Washington; Chattanooga, Tenn.; and the Philadelphia area. (See Comcast Sends In the All-Digital 'Cavalry', Comcast 'Cavalry' Rides Into NoCal , and Comcast IDs First DTA Market.)
Comcast expects to have this format running in systems passing nearly half of its 24.1 million customer base by year's end.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News