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Video software

NDS Cracks the US Cable Code

After banging its head against the wall trying to get US MSOs to give more than a cursory glance at its conditional access system, NDS Ltd. has at last discovered how to elbow its way into this tough market.

Instead of throwing money and effort at trying to bust the seemingly unbreakable Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT)-Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) set-top and security duopoly, UK-based NDS has been gaining traction with some of the nation’s largest MSOs by focusing less on its product portfolio and more on professional services that, more often than not, end up centering on projects that rely mostly on products from competitors.

NDS’s persistence on this side of the pond is starting to pay off. For several years, a key conditional access deal with Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC) pretty much summed up NDS's limited US cable momentum. (See Samsung Boxes Break In at Cablevision and Cablevision Scores Set-Top Waiver Extension .)

In 2009, NDS’s cable fortunes started to turn for the better when Cox Communications Inc. hired it to help out with the MSO’s ambitious tru2way effort. Cox hired NDS to develop and integrate apps, including the MSO’s new “Trio” guide, for a platform that’s starting off by using Cisco-made boxes and security. Then, earlier this year, it scored a deal to serve as the prime integrator for Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)’s tru2way project.

[Ed Note: NDS's US cable potential also brightened a bit when News Corp. (NYSE: NWS) swapped control of MSO rival DirecTV Group Inc. (NYSE: DTV) to Liberty Media Corp. (NYSE: LMC).] (See Liberty Seals DirecTV Swap , Cox Puts NDS at Heart of Tru2way Plan , Cox Guides Tru2way Forward, and Comcast, NDS Connect on Tru2way .)

Those deals, plus growth opportunities with other MSOs, are raising NDS's North American profile. After starting off with a handful of people dedicated to that market a few years ago, NDS has since bumped the numbers up to 350, and has recently opened up a new facility in Atlanta, where Cox is headquartered and where some of its larger vendors, including Cisco, have a significant presence.

Jesper Knutsson, VP and GM of sales for North America, claims that NDS’s vendor-neutral and gaps analysis approach with professional services has helped it gain traction with domestic cable operators.

NDS has hit on something with that more broad-minded and less product-focused approach to the US cable market, says Heavy Reading senior analyst Alan Breznick. “They’re not just counting CA [conditional access] anymore,” he says. “They’ve seen the limits of that strategy.”

But make no mistake, if NDS has a product or component that can help fill those gaps, it will be more than happy to make it part of the package.

Two product areas where NDS may end up gaining some ground is in video gateways and a “unified” headend architecture that, through the use of modules, look to bridge cable’s legacy video services to IP-based video and TV Everywhere-esque offerings.

NDS, now a private company that’s still 49 percent owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., doesn’t make set-tops, but it’s eager to help MSOs develop gateway designs that can feed video to IP-based displays and might leverage its user interfaces and home networking management software. (See Docsis 3.0 Enters the Gateway Era and Cable Winks, Giggles at TR-069 .)

It’s already making some progress with Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY), which is based in the US, but owns and operates cable systems in Europe and other parts of the world. For its part, NDS is pitching in its middleware and UI for Liberty’s forthcoming IP-based multimedia gateways. (See Liberty Global Reveals IP Gateway Partners.)

On the headend side, NDS thinks its modular approach can help US MSOs open up its security and other interfaces without requiring a parallel headend that can accommodate IP video services and security systems from sources other than Moto and Cisco.

“Cable needs to change their business and support new services and functionalities, and they’re looking for someone to take them there,” says Steve Tranter, NDS’s VP of interactive and broadband.

But that’s likely longer-term thinking. “I don’t think the duopoly is that threatened yet by NDS,” Breznick says. “They [NDS] are doing things around the margins, but they’re not getting into Motorola’s or Cisco’s core [set-top security] business yet.”

But don’t completely count out NDS as a video security player in US cable. Its CA product, VideoGuard, is already in 133 million devices worldwide, and some ideas circulating at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) around downloadable security and its “AllVid” inquiry could end up working in NDS’s favor.

Cablevision is using the NDS “Key Ladder” for the MSO’s new downloadable security system. Although Cablevision is teaming that technology with NDS security, the vendor insists that the Key Ladder, which requires integration in set-top chipsets and headends, can also support conditional access systems of other vendors. (See All About the FCC's AllVid.)

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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