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CableLabs Chief Sees HD VOD as Next Killer App

Alan Breznick

If you're wondering what the next hot video product might be for cable, Dick Green has the answer for you: HD VOD.

Green, the veteran president & CEO of CableLabs, is a long-time fan of high-definition TV (HDTV) programming. He believes that cable operators can use high-def video-on-demand (VOD) content to seize the competitive advantage against satellite TV providers and telco TV operators closing in on cable's core business. Speaking at last week's Cable-Tec Expo conference in Denver, he said only cable can offer HD VOD in abundance because of the bandwidth restrictions faced by the two rival industries.

In particular, Green sees HD VOD as a potent weapon against DirecTV and EchoStar, which have been loading up with high-def national and local channels in recent months thanks to launches of powerful new satellites. He noted that the two DBS providers have been focusing on HD content because they don't have many other places to turn if they wish to compete against cable.

"They're going to come at us with a lot of HD because it's relatively easy for them to do," he said. "That's why it's so important for us to do HD, particularly HD VOD. It's really the killer app."

Green also sees HD VOD as a "great weapon" against the new breed of telco-delivered IPTV services because he doesn't think the RBOCs can offer a similar product. He urged MSOs to deploy HD VOD offerings in markets where AT&T and Verizon Communications are now rolling out video service.

"They've got a real problem," he said. "I don't think they have a comparable serviceÉ Where they're weak, that's where we ought to push forward with new products and services."

Michael Fries, president and CTO of Liberty Global Inc., said he expects the phone companies plunging into the TV market to hit some tough sledding. "Video is the toughest piece of the bundle," he said. "I think they underestimate how difficult it will be."

But Gerry Laybourne, chair and CEO of Oxygen Media, warns that cable operators can't let down their guard, even with their bandwidth and first-to-market advantages in the video business. She especially expects the two satellite TV giants to find new ways to compete effectively.

"I don't think we can relax," she said. "DirecTV and EchoStar are great marketers. They'll adapt."

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