Cable Tech

Cable's Cloud-Based UI Makeover

There are good reasons why Brian Roberts has called Comcast's X1 platform "a game changer." The company's chairman and CEO is enamored with the cloud-based user interface's (UI's) sleek design, interactive features, refresh capabilities and potential advantages versus cable's competition.

Yet the X1 "Entertainment Operating System," as Comcast calls it, represents something even more significant in changing cable's game. The cloud UI represents the most visible result of cable's effort to embrace cloud delivery technology and to improve the cable user experience (UX), according to a new Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, "Cloud-Based UIs Giving Cable a Welcome Makeover."

Branded UI platforms, including Time Warner Cable TWC TV, Charter Spectrum and Cox Contour, are putting a new face on cable, the report says. In addition to finally bringing cable's on-screen graphics and program guides into the 21st century, the UI platforms serve as a launch pad for new applications, navigation and content that can be quickly added and upgraded through the companies' cloud infrastructures.

Amid pay-TV subscription declines, cable multiple system operators (MSOs) are seeing early signs that the improved UIs are curtailing defections, driving video-on-demand (VoD) uptake and increasing channel viewing. Since the industry is becoming more broadband-centric, the report says, cable providers can use their branded UIs wherever customers connect with them, be it through a set-top gateway box, a smart TV, mobile phone or other Internet-connected device.

The Heavy Reading report provides an update on cable's cloud UI progress and the opportunities and challenges ahead. It includes profiles of 20 software suppliers that offer cable guides, UI solutions and related content discovery tools, including several relative newcomers that exhibited at the recent INTX 2015 cable convention in Chicago.

For years, cable failed to offer customers a significant improvement in user experience, the report says. Hampered by legacy set-top boxes (STBs) with limited capability, MSOs struggled to display attractive interactive program guides (IPGs) while over-the-top (OTT) services like Netflix and Amazon presented graphically rich designs, search and recommendations.

At INTX 2015, cloud UIs and content discovery were a primary focus. Comcast's Roberts took center stage by announcing the rollout of a voice-controlled TV remote that can be used to find programs, movies, actors or even individual scenes. Comcast also offers a "talking guide" for the visually impaired.

By rebranding its UIs, companies are downplaying the "cable" label that the industry is trying to shed. If Charter is successful in acquiring Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications CEO Tom Rutledge has said Charter will rebrand it under the Spectrum name.

Cable will face usability challenges continually as it seeks to roll out UIs that appeal to its diverse customer base. Despite initial promise, it remains to be seen whether cable providers can use the new UIs to stem the tide of pay-TV defections and successfully create a branded, multiscreen experience. But the new face of cable companies shows that cable TV might not be as outdated as some prognosticators like to suggest.

— Craig Leddy, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider

Cloud-Based UIs Giving Cable a Welcome Makeover, a 20-page report in PDF format, is available as part of an annual single-user subscription (six issues) to Heavy Reading Cable Industry Insider, priced at $1,499. Individual reports are available for $595. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/cable.

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