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Cisco's still driving development, but itaas is now tasked with spicing up the legacy cable set-top guide
January 21, 2010
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) has tapped long-standing partner itaas Inc. to execute enhancements, updates, and overall support for "SARA," the interactive program guide Cisco originally developed for its "Explorer" line of digital cable set-tops.
Financial terms weren't disclosed, but Atlanta-based itaas will enlist a dedicated team to help spice up the guide and integrate specific updates wanted by Cisco or by the individual MSOs that are still using SARA, an acronym for Scientific Atlanta Resident Application. It's one of the few remaining products that still reference the company Cisco purchased three years ago for almost $7 billion. (See Cisco to Acquire Scientific-Atlanta.)
Cisco and itaas did not reveal any specific changes they (or their MSO partners) have in mind for SARA, but itaas VP of marketing Jim Elayan said work will likely center on "usability" enhancements, including ways to help consumers discover content, as well as a more general "updated feel" for the guide.
Although itaas is on board to execute those changes, Cisco will still direct the evolution of SARA. And itaas doesn't have the final say on when a new feature is field-ready; those changes still have to pass Cisco's System Verification and Testing (SVT) process with flying colors prior to release.
SARA's cable legacy
The deal deepens itaas's relationship with Cisco (itaas president and CEO Vibha Rustagi and CTO Jatin Desai both hailed from Scientific Atlanta), as it's already been providing some support for SARA, as well as for PowerTV (Cisco's set-top operating system), and the Cisco headend. But exactly how much new business this brings to itaas is not known.
Cisco and itaas won't offer a current count of boxes that are still using the guide. But it's likely to be in the millions because several large MSOs -- including Cablevision Systems Corp. (NYSE: CVC), Cox Communications Inc. , Rogers Communications Inc. (Toronto: RCI), Vidéotron Telecom Ltd. , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- are believed to still be running SARA at some capacity. However, the volume of boxes supporting SARA have dropped in recent years as some operators did switchouts or made a strategic decisions to bring most of their guide development in-house, as TWC, a big Cisco customer, has already done.
Elayan wouldn't say how many of the company's 130 employees will be working on the project full-time, but noted that several smaller operators that are using the guide (and have no plans to make any major software or box swaps) will be looking for itaas to help them add features and functions that help them differentiate from the competition. That group will be a "pretty good driver for this [deal]," he said.
With itaas focused on those projects, the aim is to ensure that changes can be made faster than before, though the timing will still depend on how much verification and testing is required. Elayan said simple color and graphic changes could take a couple of months to get through the process, but more intricate changes that are tied to the video-on-demand (VoD) system would obviously take longer.
Although this latest deal is focused on a legacy set-top box software platform, itaas is also focused on software development for next-gen systems and platforms, including those using Enhanced TV Binary Interchange Format (EBIF) and tru2way. Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox, and Time Warner Cable are among itaas's larger MSO partners. (See Cox, Itaas Connect on ITV, Comcast, itaas Engage on EBIF , and BIAP Brings EBIF to Itaas, Time Warner Cable, Itaas Ink ITV Accord , and TVWorks Picks Itaas.)
Elayan said the SARA deal has nothing to do with "Blue," a new Web-ish IPG Cisco has developed for IPTV set-tops. Cisco demonstrated Blue at last year's Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) Cable-Tec Expo in Denver. Cisco hasn't announced any deals for Blue yet, but an official noted at the time that it expects Blue to gain traction first with telcos. (See Cisco Webs Up Its UI .)
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News
Senior Editor, Light Reading
Baumgartner also served as Site Editor for Light Reading Cable from 2007-2013. In between his two stints at Light Reading, he led tech coverage for Multichannel News and was a regular contributor to Broadcasting + Cable. Baumgartner was named to the 2018 class of the Cable TV Pioneers.
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