CES: Roberts Declares Open Season
LAS VEGAS -- CES -- It took more than 40 years for a chief cable exec to deliver a keynote address at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) chairman and CEO Brian Roberts used his opportunity this morning to promote the cable industry's commitment to "openness" with the CE industry.
Until this year, cable's presence at CES has been muted. Roberts said cable's 2008 showing will not be an aberration.
"You'll see cable everywhere," he said of future Vegas gadget-fests.
In the early going, Roberts talked up tru2way, the new brand name for the OpenCable Platform that promises an open retail market for interactive digital boxes and televisions that hook into cable's disparate networks. (See Cable's 'tru2way' Play and CES: News & Views .)
He also acknowledged that, historically, cable has been a less-than-perfect partner to CE manufacturers and retailers.
The "age of the closed proprietary set-top box is behind us," Roberts said. He didn't name names, but U.S. cable's set tops and conditional access have long been dominated by the Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)– Scientific Atlanta duopoly. "The era of an open, two-way cable platform is here," he said, adding later that virtually the entire U.S. cable industry will support tru2way in local systems by the end of 2008.
Some results of the tru2way effort could be seen at the Comcast briefing room at The Venetian's portion of CES. There, the MSO was showing off a tru2way-based digital box from Panasonic Corp. (NYSE: PC) that complies with specs outlined by Comcast's Residential Network Gateway (RNG) platform.
Because it has a CableCARD slot, the box will find its way onto Comcast networks based on either SA or Motorola technology. But the initial focus for the Panasonic box will be Motorola systems, Comcast senior vice president Mark Hess said in a conversation with Cable Digital News Monday afternoon. He said the RNG-class Panasonic set-top is in trials now, with deployments starting "in earnest" in the third quarter.
Panasonic has also unveiled two tru2way hi-definition digital TVs -- a 42-inch and 50-inch model -- that are due out later this year.
Starting next year, Comcast also plans to offer a portable DVR/set-top combo under the Panasonic brand and tru2way technology. (See Comcast, Panasonic Unveil Portable DVR .)
Comcast's tru2way commitment also extends to its partnership with TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) and an initial deployment in the New England region. (See TiVo Set-Tops Trickle Out .)
Opening the door to both application developers and a wider range of CE companies "is a totally different business model [for the cable industry]," Roberts said, noting that cable's success with the Docsis standard for cable modems has helped to convince the industry that it needs to open up.
Roberts also referred to a tru2way project involving Microsoft MediaCenter PCs. Those devices, with a CableCARD slot, will pipe in all of cable's interactive services, including VOD, without a separate set-top box. Some sketchy details about that project, sometimes referred to as the Bidirectional OpenCable Platform (BOCR), emerged last May at The Cable Show, also held here in Las Vegas. (See Cable Developing Two-Way PCTV Play .)
Separately, Roberts introduced new broadband services and planned enhancements for existing ones, driven by a "convergence" strategy that ties together voice, video, and data services.
The MSO is labeling the package, "Comcast 3.0." Version 1.0 would be in the 1980s, Roberts said, when the MSO wired up neighborhoods with coax. Comcast 2.0 followed as the industry consolidated and introduced fiber, interactive services, and high-speed Internet services.
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