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Cablevision Shows Its Innovative Side

Jeff Baumgartner

12:15 PM -- Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), the MSO that likes to zig while all its peers are zagging, is zigging again with an announcement today that it will begin to test a PC-to-TV media relay service in June. (See Cablevision to Deliver Net Content to Set-Tops and Cablevision Connects PCs With TVs.)

Instead of coming forth with an expensive, complicated QAM-IP box flush with home networking capabilities, the MSO is getting ready to show the world how an innovative method that leans heavily on Cablevision's hybrid fiber/coax (HFC) plant will help its customers easily bridge Internet content from the likes of Hulu LLC and Pandora Media Inc. to its large base of legacy set-tops... and then onto their TV screens.

And timing, as they say, is everything. Cablevision announced plans for the tech trial a little less than a month before the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is scheduled to present its National Broadband Plan. Tied into that, the FCC has been asking everyone to tell the Commission what it can do to drive video device innovation, bring Web TV content to the big screen, and, in particular, help boost broadband adoption. (See FCC Boots Up National Broadband Plan , Whither the CableCARD?, and Broadband Disconnect.)

As set-top innovation goes, almost everyone that's anyone in the video biz has offered an opinion, with very few of them in agreement. Predictably, they were all over the map as carriers and organizations lobbied positions that suit their interests. (See The Set-Top Files (Part I) , The Set-Top Files (Part II) , TiVo Gives Cable Both Barrels , and The Set-Top Mess .)

And by everyone, I mean Cablevision, too. However, the MSO failed to mention this PC-to-TV trial in its formal comments to the Commission. Instead, it talked about its new downloadable conditional access system and why it could help drive innovation and cultivate a broader diversity of set-top suppliers. (See Cablevision Starts Downloading .)

Although the FCC will certainly take note of Cablevision's trial as it puts together the Broadband Plan, is the MSO's show of innovation too late to matter?

Communications Daily reported last week that the Commission's Broadband Plan could recommend that video device innovation be sought through a fancy "gateway" set-top. A recommendation is, of course, short of a more formal inquiry or an actual mandate, but it would demonstrate which direction the FCC wants the discussion to go.

The National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA) is among the groups that's firmly against that idea, arguing that a cross-industry, standardized gateway effort would "entail crippling delays" and call on cable MSOs and other multichannel video programming distributors (MVPDs) to "reinvent" their services.

Cablevision, meanwhile, is clearly showing that cable (or at least one historically maverick MSO) is capable of innovating -- even on its legacy set-top platform -- and hitting many of the targets the FCC has identified in its video device query. And it's done so without any formal government intervention.

Despite the report about the gateway recommendation, the FCC has not disclosed any final judgments on the set-top topic. But we'll know soon enough. The Commission's scheduled to present the National Broadband Plan during its public meeting on March 16, one day before it's to put it in the hands of Congress.

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable

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