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MSO Taking the MPEG-4 Plunge

Jeff Baumgartner
2/23/2010

Zito Media LP , a company helmed by former Adelphia Communications exec James Rigas, is on board as the first multi-system operator to deploy Avail-TVN 's linear video service using the bandwidth-saving MPEG-4 format.

Zito will need all the bandwidth help it can get as it prepares 10 systems -- serving 23,000 subscribers in parts of Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia -- for digital video upgrades. Most of Zito's cable systems are built out to just 450MHz or 550MHz, so going all-digital at this point is considered more economically feasible for the operator than going with a full spectrum upgrade to 860MHz or 1GHz.

And Zito won't have to move too much furniture to make the move to MPEG-4. Only two of its systems are offering digital video, sourcing MPEG-2 channels from the Comcast Media Center (CMC) 's HITS Quick Take service and delivering them to Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) boxes.

Those two Zito systems, along the eight delivering only analog cable TV services, will all move to the Avail-TVN platform and run services on set-top boxes from Evolution Digital LLC. (See PPC Plucks Evolution Broadband and Zito Media Turns On MPEG-4.)

Initially, Zito will be using Evolution's standard-definition MPEG-4 boxes with the Conax AS conditional access system. Zito also intends to offer broadband-capable TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) boxes as an advanced HD-DVR option that can also carry over-the-top video-on-demand (VoD) services, according to Evolution Digital president Brent Smith (BS).

Zito is also hoping to deploy a new breed of Digital Terminal Adapter (DTA) devices from Evolution that are capable of displaying high-definition television signals. Evolution's currently trying to win a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) waiver for that model, and Zito is lobbying the Commission for a system waiver that would allow the use of an HD-DTA with embedded security, Smith said via email.

So far, only one MSO, CableOne , has obtained a waiver for an HD-DTA, and that's for one small system in Tennessee. (See Cable ONE Seeks $50 HD Box, Cable ONE Snares HD Set-Top Waiver , and Evolution Guns for HD Box Waiver .)

As for Zito's move to MPEG-4, Avail-TVN is staging the first half of those head ends now, and expects to complete the other five over the course of the year, according to Avail-TVN chief revenue officer Jim Riley.

Avail-TVN is currently capable of delivering about 240 standard-definition channels and 40 high-definition channels on its MPEG-4 platform, but those numbers are expected to rise with time.

Zito is the first operator with multiple systems to go with Avail-TVN's MPEG-4 offering. About 12 other individual cable systems are already on board, Riley said.

Zito Media is based in Coudersport, Pa., the former home of Adelphia Communications, which went bankrupt and was eventually sold to Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC). Zito Media president James Rigas is the son of Adelphia founder and cable pioneer John Rigas; John and another son, Timothy, were convicted in 2004 for their roles in a securities and accounting scandal. James Rigas, however, was never charged with a crime. (See Court Upholds Adelphia Convictions and Time Warner, Comcast Buy Adelphia.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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