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The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways

Jeff Baumgartner
5/25/2012

BOSTON -- The Cable Show -- This year's event, as usual, ran the gamut of cable technology, programming and policy. I'll leave the regulatory wonks to wade through the policy rhetoric, but after taking a day to reflect on what I saw and heard here this week, I offer a list of my big takeaways from and reactions to the show:

1. Comcast's X1 is a bellwether
Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s coming launch of the X1 platform in Boston was a focal point at the show and will likely be viewed as the beginning of cable's next-generation video era of agile cloud-based interfaces that will extend not just to TVs, but to tablets, smartphones and PCs. It also marks cable's migration to more IP-based video. Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated the service at last year's cable confab, but this week's event was about the here-and-now and not the what-is-to-be.



2. TiVo's not afraid
During my visit to the TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) booth, CEO Tom Rogers heaped some praise on Comcast's X1, as a "big step forward." But he remarked that the X1 offers only a small amount of broadband-fed content here in the early going, while TiVo already provides a lot of what X1 does, plus a sizable menu of over-the-top content from sources like Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Hulu LLC . TiVo's blended content play "organizes the chaos" for consumers, he said.

Rogers was also unconcerned about Comcast's plans to expand its broadband usage ceiling and to test usage-based policies. "They have the right to differentiate and meter it," he said of Comcast's cable modem service. Of course, TiVo and the cable industry (with Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) being the exception) are more friendly than ever these days, so I guess I should not expect Rogers to make a big fuss about it.

3. Cable hearts Wi-Fi
If it wasn't already obvious before, this week's big roaming deal among five major operators shows that cable's making a huge bet on Wi-Fi. While these wireless broadband deployments will help them keep cable modem customers happy, the strategy will also provide cellular traffic offload and give cable an alternative way to deliver voice services.

4. Docsis/EPoC tension is building
Arris Group Inc. (Nasdaq: ARRS), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and Motorola Mobility LLC urged the industry to develop a next-generation Docsis platform (Docsis 4.0?) that they claim would match the performance of the budding EPON Protocol Over Coax (EPoC) standard. No one is casting any stones out in the open, but all of our private conversations indicate that there is a technical and political battle brewing as the Docsis vendors look to protect their business in cable's next-gen access world, while a larger legion of Ethernet players and EPoC wannabees hope to stake their claim on what's coming next for cable access.

Does this mean cable will face a fork in the road and have to make a tough decision, or can these efforts live in harmony? We'll see. We are also hearing from some cable operators that the cause for these tensions is overblown. We'll have more on that soon.

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Cooper10
Cooper10
12/5/2012 | 5:31:52 PM
re: The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways


Good summary, Jeff - I would add a couple more trends, not necessarily specific to the Cable Show, but trends all the same.


- TV Everywhere is getting significant traction, but it is still not happening fast enough.  Networks and distributors can't afford to wait for their existing contracts to expire before they negotiate TV Everywhere rights, it needs to happen sooner vs. later - technology isn't going to wait for distribution contracts to expire.


- Consumers will increasingly be in control of the user interface/user experience they want to use to access content - the idea of a network or a service provider "controlling" the user interface is becoming less realistic as technology continues to provide the customer more and more control


- Serious fractures are beginning to develop in the broadcast distribution model.  Longer term, hard to argue that more and more high value content will migrate away from being available for free over the air - if Aereo and others are successful, the logical response will be to pull high value content away from OTA distribution and into distribution channels where a dual revenue stream can be realized - expect lots of hand-wringing over the demise of "free, over the air TV".

msilbey
msilbey
12/5/2012 | 5:31:51 PM
re: The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways


TiVo is in an interesting spot at the moment. It's finally able to combine cable linear *and* VoD content with OTT video (in limited markets). So far it's the only set-top player that can do that, but it's got a limited window to enjoy the advantage. As more cable VoD is available over IP, more hardware players (e.g. Xbox) will be able to do the same. TiVo should really press the advantage and freshen up its UI to gain a new base of loyal users. 


RE, broadcast- I fully agree with Cooper that fractures are starting to emerge. The big question is what type of content will be relegated to free OTA in the future? The lowest of the low?


And finally on viewdini- such an odd launch. I saw in the Comcast booth that Comcast Labs has its own take on a mobile portal for accessing lots of video content. Those guys had no idea viewdini was coming. That said, the viewdini interface looks nice, and I'll be happy to test it out when it becomes available for my Android LTE phone in a few weeks. 

AESerm
AESerm
12/5/2012 | 5:31:51 PM
re: The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways


Between X1 and TiVo you've got a large chunk of the UI action. In this post for Videonet I added mention of NDS Surfaces, Cisco Voyager Vantage, Active Video's related work, Moto's Dream Gallery. On DOCSIS vs. PON, recall that CCAP made room for EPON, but EPoC is something else, an end-around, so good to flag that one. Still trying to figure out what to make of Viewdini. Mabye wait until it actually launches.

craigleddy
craigleddy
12/5/2012 | 5:31:49 PM
re: The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways


Just flipped on my laptop and was surprised to see "CableWiFi" among my SSID choices. Word at the Cable Show was that the industry's new WiFi moniker wouldn't be used for a bit, but I guess Cablevision has decided to move ahead (I'm in CVC's suburban NYC market). The optimumwifi SSID is still listed too. 


I'm on CableWiFi now. Can you tell..........how.........fast.........it..........is? I'm joking, it's perfectly fine so far. I'll ask my neighbors if they're noticing the new ID and what they think of cable's effort. At least the cable one reads a little easier than optimumwifi, which looks like the name of a Native American tribe.        


 

joset01
joset01
12/5/2012 | 5:31:48 PM
re: The Cable Show 2012: Seven Big Takeaways


Good to know, thanks.

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