The bulk of this year's cream of the crop has apps and services tailored for, or developed by, Tier 1 and 2 operators as they seek out ways to fight over-the-top competition while trying to boost the value of having a pay-TV subscription. And the DVR isn't dead yet!
Avail-TVN 's AnyView. Let's be honest -- not every service provider out there has the financial means and engineering resources of a Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) or Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) to pull together a TV Everywhere strategy (mostly) in-house. Avail-TVN's AnyView will likely gain some traction with major service providers, but it's new hybrid terrestrial/satellite, IP-based video distribution platform is starting to make TV Everywhere achievable for the world's Tier 2/3 providers. And Avail-TVN's using a wide range of adaptive bit rate profiles to tee up the delivery of on-demand and live content to set-tops, smartphones, PCs and tablets. And it landed Cable & Wireless Communications 's Lime division in the Caribbean for AnyView's maiden voyage, with a handful of U.S. service providers already poised to deploy in 2012.
Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC)'s DVR Plus. If there wasn't a Cablevision, there might not be any network DVRs deployed today in the U.S., and possibly for years to come. The MSO and its legal team stuck their necks out and did the legal dirty work to take on the programmers and win the right to develop and launch DVR Plus, a network DVR that looked to the old Sony Betamax ruling for protection by making discrete copies of individual recordings and limiting playback only to the household that made the original recording request. Thanks to Cablevision's ingenuity and persistence, DVR Plus is deployed in a good portion of Cablevision's markets, and has seemingly cleared the legal hurdle so other MSOs can follow suit, starting as early as next year.
Cablevision's Optimum Voice SIP Trunking from Optimum Business. Cablevision took direct aim at traditional systems with the launch of an IP PBX targeted at small-business customers, further complementing the kind of services that its Optimum Lightpath division continues to pitch and sell to enterprise customers. The idea is to bring the kind of apps and features that traditional voice system services bring to the table, such as call forwarding and anonymous call blocking, but undercut the telcos with a service and a pricing scheme that small-business owners will find attractive. It also represents a quantum leap ahead of the kind of standard SMB voice service that MSOs have traditionally been able to offer with PacketCable 1.x.
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Business Class Metro Ethernet. Ethernet services aren't necessarily new to the cable industry, but Comcast's decision to launch MetroE services in 20 major markets this year signals that the cable industry is now ready to push up-market with some gusto and target mid-sized business customers that have largely been the domain of the CLECs and ILECs. Comcast topped $1 billion in annual business services revenues for the first time in 2010 using its original strategy of tackling businesses with fewer than 20 employees, but it now has the technical pieces in place to chase down even more revenues and target a market that represents a potential $15 billion within Comcast's footprint. The MSO is just stoking the MetroE fire now, but look for the strategy to start to become a significant contributor for Comcast's business services arm in 2012.
EchoStar Corp. LLC (Nasdaq: SATS)'s Aria. Instead of limiting itself to low-margin set-top box sales, EchoStar is combining a hosted interactive program guide and an over-the-top, broadband-fueled TV Everywhere service with a line of cable-tailored Sling-loaded boxes that will give Tier 2/3 MSOs the ability to offer on-demand content and place-shifted, live TV content to just about any device with a broadband connection. And EchoStar has some lofty aims, believing Aria will be in front of 1 million cable subs by the end of 2013. Now all they need to do is convince domestic cable operators to buy the goods and look past the fact that EchoStar has corporate connections to Dish Network LLC (Nasdaq: DISH), one of cable's fiercest competitors. Look for Aria and its all-inclusive TV Everywhere package to help give EchoStar its first big U.S. cable breakthrough.
Suddenlink Communications 's Suddenlink2Go. TV Everywhere: It's not just for the major MSOs anymore. Suddenlink proved that with the June launch of Suddenlink2Go, an authenticated, Web-fed service that features tens of thousands of full-length TV shows and video clips alongside more than 1,300 movies. Suddenlink's service offers a model that other mid-tier MSOs can follow as they look to match up with TV Everywhere services from DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) and Dish and some of the larger telco TV service providers.
Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC)'s iPad App. Time Warner Cable was the first U.S. MSO to bring live TV -- albeit a subset of its full lineup -- to Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL)'s iPad. Access remains limited to within the reach of a customer's home network, but adding linear video into the fold brought the TV Everywhere concept to a higher level and forced everyone to the negotiating table. TW Cable's decision to ask forgiveness rather than permission caused a bit of a rift, with some programmers claiming that the app "seized" their content, but cooler heads have since prevailed as they attempt to iron everything out without letting the courts decide everyone's multi-screen fate.
Don't forget: Leading Lights winners will be announced at an Awards Dinner at Hudson Terrace in New York City on Nov. 8, following the first day of Light Reading's Ethernet Expo Americas 2011 event.