Welcome to today's broadband and cable news roundup.
Comcast Corp.'s Colorado-based HITS unit has released an upgrade to its video distribution platform for independent Tier 2/3 cable operators that still relies heavily on MPEG-2-based digital video but is becoming more efficient from a bandwidth perspective. The upgrade, known as "Q2" and getting underway in the second quarter, is being applied to the HITS Quantum Platform and will convert several HITS standard-definition transponders to more bandwidth-efficient DVB-S2 technology, a move that will generate more capacity and increase the number of HD services that can be delivered via the MPEG-2 format. The upgrade will also enable HITS to deliver the entire programming lineup via a single satellite, and will let HITS affiliates add more programming and reduce bandwidth consumption without having to rebuild their headends or replace their MPEG-2-based digital set-top boxes, Comcast said. The operator estimates that more than 70 percent of its HITS Quantum multiplexes will be using 256 QAM DVB-S2 technology and, as a result, will enable cable operator partners to free up to 25 percent of their bandwidth for new services.
The upgrade comes into play as HITS and the National Cable Television Cooperative Inc. (NCTC), which represents almost 1,000 independent cable operators, recently reworked a deal that provides access to the HITS upgrades. Comcast says the "majority" of participating NCTC members have already opted in for the upgrades, while "several" programming groups have also signed up to tap into the upgraded platform. Comcast and the NCTC made the announcement as the co-op's Winter Educational Conference (WEC) gets set to kick off this week in Las Vegas.
Fox Broadcasting Co. is refusing to run Dish Network Corp. ads these days as the two companies lock horns in the courts, but the satellite giant still figured out how to promote its controversial Hopper HD-DVR during Sunday's running of the Daytona 500. Dish and its Hopper logo still got air time by sponsoring the Leavine Family Racing's No. 95 Ford Fusion (here's a pic), driven by Scott Speed, who finished in 23rd and won $305,514, by the way. Dish and the broadcasters are battling in the courts over the Hopper's ad-zapping AutoHop feature. Last week, Fox upped the ante by targeting a new feature in a second-generation version of the Hopper that lets users sling live TV over the Internet to PCs, tablets and smartphones, and port recorded TV shows to mobile devices. (See Fox Attacks Dish's New Video Slinger.)
More than 25 percent of TVs shipped in 2012 were "smart" (i.e. Internet-connected), according to Screen Digest, predicting that the number will rise to more than 50 percent 2015. The trend is a positive one for cable operators that are pursuing all-service gateways that can deliver services to connected TVs without the need for a separate set-top or client device. (See Comcast All-Service Gateways Go 'Headless' .)
ESPN has inked a deal to sell its U.K. and Ireland TV channels business to BT Group plc for an undisclosed sum. The buy primarily includes the ESPN and ESPN America channels and their live sports portfolio, including the FA Cup, Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League, UEFA Europa league and the German Bundesliga.