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In Praise of Barbarians

Alan Breznick
7/8/2009

NOON -- Unlike many MSO executives, Vince Groff is not sitting around fretting about the huge threat that over-the-top video and mobile video potentially pose to the cable industry.

Rather, Groff, executive director of corporate development for Cox Communications Inc. , is pretty excited about the new technologies and products that the Internet and mobile video players have brought to the table, including MPEG-4 video encoding, more powerful PCs, game consoles, and software-based content protection. Speaking at Light Reading’s second annual Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies event in Atlanta late last month, he argued that the so-called “barbarians at the gate” are actually offering many ways to improve the cable culture.

“They’re not so much a threat as an opportunity,” he said. “They’ve developed some great technologies for video that cable can use… Those barbarians are bringing us some nice presents.”

Indeed, Groff, who previously led Cox’s interactive TV product development efforts, said the cable industry is “probably on the cusp” of installing a software-based digital transmission content protection (DTCP) system that would encrypt interconnections between different video devices, thanks to the barbarians’ gifts. He predicted that cable operators will adopt a digital rights management (DRM) system for content protection that mobile handsets can support.

Focusing on his own company’s efforts, Groff reiterated that Cox will soon deploy a whole-home DVR system, which will likely make it the first large MSO to do so. But he noted that Cox doesn’t plan to stop there: “We’ve solved the problem of recording content on one device and sending it to another set-top. Now we’re working on deploying video to other devices as well.”

Although he’s a big proponent of Multimedia over Coax Alliance (MoCA) networking technology, which Cox will use for the in-home wiring of its multi-room DVR service, Groff believes that wireless technology will prove useful, too. He’s counting on using a future version of WiFi or some other advanced wireless technology to help shoot video signals between rooms and devices. “I think wireless will play a big role in the home,” he said.

Espousing another provocative view, Groff also sees a role for video transcoding in the home. He argues that cable operators will need to transcode video signals when subscribers wish to record programs on their DVRS and then shift them to other video display devices.

“Transcoding will play an important role as we expand multi-room DVR to multi-device DVR. There could be 100 different permutations. I don’t want to send 100 different stream versions down to the home.”

— Alan Breznick, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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