Comcast Ready to Kick Apps With 'CodeBig'
NEW YORK -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) is hoping to increase the value of its network by encouraging more application and software development from outsiders and finding ways to allow its video- and IP-based services to be used in a wide variety of Web-connected consumer devices.
Comcast calls the initiative "CodeBig" and explained the logic behind its thinking at this week's Cable Next-Gen Video Strategies event. "Think of it as our version of Google APIs or Yahoo APIs," said Comcast Chief Software Architect Sree Kotay.
These days, cable services of all sorts are terminated at modems and set-tops, locking in each service to a particular device. But consumers are tired of being told what equipment to buy in order to consume the shows and services they want and even cable companies are starting to listen. (See Comcast Courts the Cloud.)
"We're not going to be the ones that decide what devices consumers [use to get content] any more than we decided what TVs people bought," Kotay says. "They're going to be on all of these platforms, and we have to get them services."
Comcast is looking to separate the business logic of those services from the presentation environment, which is already comprised of a wide range of technologies, including Adobe Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: ADBE) Flash, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)'s Silverlight, Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), and Google (Nasdaq: GOOG)'s Android. Even HTML has different ways to be displayed and rendered, as evidenced in Web browsers such as Explorer, Firefox and Chrome.
Kotay says that by allowing customer authentication, verification and similar business logic functions to be handled "in the cloud," the consumer experience will be more flexible and opened up to a variety of devices.
For distribution of video to multiple types of screens, Comcast has been experimenting with ways to transcode video into a format that can be encrypted and packaged on the fly.
That would mean Comcast would have to centralize its back-office functions, in the proverbial cloud, while letting the routers and switches take care of the distribution. "The [distribution] network we want to be as dumb as possible," Kotay says.
But it also wants some elements distributed, such as the app environment, so it can be tapped into by Comcast's voice and video units, as well as its Comcast Interactive Media (CIM Labs) division. Comcast is also working on a resource security component that will let it expose its service to third parties, so everyone from TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) to Samsung Corp. can gain access and develop apps and media services for the MSO.
"We really want to see competition on the basis of capability, not compatibility," Kotay said.
What about tru2way?
Before cable started think through an IP video strategy, the industry was betting on tru2way to help create a retail market for set-tops, TVs and other video devices that could support an MSO's interactive video services. (See Tru2way: Epic Fail at Retail.)
Comcast is deploying tru2way, but expect it to complement, not serve as the core, of its IP video migration plan. "It is our strategy for how we're dealing with our [legacy] QAM services," Kotay said of the CableLabs -specified middleware and headend platform. Comcast views tru2way as an important services platform, but Kotay said tru2way won't necessarily serve as the platform for the MSO's next-gen user interface.
Late last year, the Wall Street Journal shed some light on that, reporting that Comcast was testing out new navigation and guide products that lived in the cloud and could be changed and upgraded much more rapidly than they can on traditional cable box set-tops that don't speak IP. (See Comcast Tests Broadband-Fed Xcalibur Service and What's Inside Comcast's Parker Box?)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable