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Are Cable Techies Finally Embracing SPIT?

Gemini Waghmare

Five years ago, I started a career transition by moving from the messy world of telecom IT systems to the mysterious domain of next-generation video infrastructure. At the time, I didn't realize that it would be such a massive leap. After all, IT and engineering are usually down the hall from one another.

By the time a few colleagues and I started our new company in 2011, the change for me was near complete. I had gone from pitching enterprise software to wireless and wireline CIOs to learning the secret language of cable CTOs. It has been challenging to earn a place at the table where long-standing video vendors such as SeaChange International Inc. (Nasdaq: SEAC), Motorola, and Rovi Corp. have long sat. But, as Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK)'s Brian Roberts has suggested, this is a time of unprecedented change in the TV industry. And that brings new players, new needs, and new opportunities. Just ask the impressive Johnny-come-latelies in video such Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) and Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO).

So why am I here? There's a very simple answer: It's because IT-oriented culture, technology, and software are permeating video back-office systems. In other words, as Light Reading would put it, it's time for (the) SPIT (Service Provider Information Technology) to start flying in the traditionally closed, proprietary, and vendor-locked back offices that make up cable TV. As QAM and its cousins begin to get replaced by IPTV, RDK, and their brethren, a new breed of open, agile, and flexible infrastructures will emerge to keep cable operators relevant and competitive.

At Light Reading Mobile, Sarah Reedy has been writing about open APIs for some time now, but there is still little to be said about them on LR Cable. As Sarah has recently begun to observe, operators may not care so much about APIs to foster a third-party development community, but they sure need open interfaces for their internal development agility. New product development demands that video functions and features like EPG, cloud DVR, search, and OTT content can all be exposed by APIs and available via flexible service-creation platforms for rapid enablement to new screens.

Cable operators know they need to embrace SPIT, and they need to do it now. If they can't use open systems to leverage and integrate new services from the cloud, their roadmaps will lead nowhere. Just look at how Comcast Xfinity is setting the pace with a breadth of services on the television, such as Pandora, Facebook, and voicemail. With its 2011 announcement of CodeBig, which appears to be well underway (although you can't currently register on the site), Comcast is building a blueprint for the next-generation operator, and the rest of the industry will have to adapt to new SPIT-inspired architectures.

What this also means is that video middleware vendors certainly have their work cut out for them. They must be ready to make the shift to SPIT enablers like cloud-APIs and service creation layers or else they'll disappear into their own self-made black boxes. It won't be an easy transition, but I see it slowly happening.

Recently I was on a conference call with the lead architect of a well-known cable set-top vendor, who was lamenting the move of "all these IT guys" into cable, and complaining that opening up APIs, using service-delivery platforms, and implementing transaction layers were all unnecessary. Well, count me guilty because I am one of those IT guys who broke into your domain, and the video back office is on its way to being covered with SPIT.

Oh, and Light Reading, it's time to change your description of SPIT. May I suggest a slight modification to define SPIT as "Light Reading's term for the evolving set of non-traditional telecom, data networking, and cable technologies to allow for a greater degree of flexibility in the creation, management, delivery, and monetization of new-generation communications and video services."

— Gemini Waghmere, Founder & CEO, UXP Systems

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12/1/2013 | 5:19:40 PM
Re: Good point on definition...
Alan, I think the "cable guys" have just had different market dynamics.  Competition has come later than with telecom operators, and the disruption curve is steeper.   Look at the new Xbox One. It's a springboard into traditional cable, over-the-top, Skype, games, and anything else.   Tivo is similar, as is Roku.  All of a sudden if you want to own the start screen, you need open platforms and a way to seamless aggregate and integrate linear TV and VOD with over-the-top and cloud services.   They will figure it out, they just didn't need to until very recently.  If they don't... they won't own the audience.
11/30/2013 | 1:53:27 PM
Re: Good point on definition...
I have had it much easier.  I started in telco operations and added (not moved to) picking up the TMN model implementation with IT staff in 1989.  Then adding cableco convergence with telco in 1993/1994 with McCaw and TCI; By 1998 working on HFC vs DOCSIS 1 SPIT; then by 2002 we were working on SPIT in WebTV and IPTV.  The luxury is we did so without the dominant providers of DAC and D/RNCS.  We were able to avoid the proprietary professional services of constant MIB integration fees (or flat out rejection) by using internal developers (home grown exported to Carrier Grade LINUX, MetaSolve, AMDOCS, Granite, NetCool etc...).  Finally by 2008 it was in those proprietary environments that Comcast has been able to bust open, that we could not.  Now everyone is able to justify development costs for TR-069 type development with the TMN MIB tools.
11/30/2013 | 10:10:38 AM
Re: Good point on definition...
I feel like cable companies are already included in the SPIT definition by virtue of obviously being more telecom and data networking service providers than they once were, though I agree anything to make cable even more aware of IT's possibilities and effects is worth getting more specific.
11/30/2013 | 8:50:13 AM
Re: Good point on definition...
Good points, Gemini. Why do you think cable engineers have been so relatively slow to embrace SPIT? Do thry judt not see it as relevant? Usually, it's tyhe cable guys that embrace innovation first, not the telcos, right? Do you think the cable guys are waking up fast enough?      
11/29/2013 | 4:26:46 PM
Re: Good point on definition...
Ray,  I totally agree with you---- embracing cloud and service management means more open systems, platforms and of course APIs.  On the telecoms side IT has long had a stage, but over in cable the network engineers have dominated the scene. Sarah Reedy has written a lot about APIs over at LR Mobile and every time I see an article related to telcos opening up systems and APIs its strikes a chord on how relevant it is on the cable side too.  I see the disruption in TV as a real catalyst to a SPIT revolution in cable
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11/29/2013 | 3:55:12 PM
Good point on definition...
Gemini, that is a good point about explicitly mentioning cable in the definition because it is just as relevant as any other part of the comms networking space - the folks that bemoan the arrival of the IT guys might be stacking shelves in a couple of years... there's plenty happening in service management, cloud, policy control, packet inspection etc in cable for it to be making a difference. A positive difference.
11/29/2013 | 1:45:14 PM
An excellent perspective.  It is amazing to me how diverse the position of cable executives is.  I know many that think that their window is quickly closing from competition from all angles, and others who think everything is just fine, thank you very much!

Reminds me of record executives in the early 2000's.  Very few saw the proliferation of mp3s having as dramatic an impact on the music industry as it ended up having.



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