Even as broadband becomes the epicenter of the cable business, video and pay-TV remain key components of the cable services bundle. And it's this piece of the bundle that remains under threat -- from traditional rivals, as well as a multitude of Internet-delivered live TV and subscription VoD options. That means that this piece of the offering is arguably in most need of innovation and future-facing technologies and capabilities.
This year's list of finalists puts an intense focus on this need, spanning areas such as voice-controlled navigation and AI-assisted personalization, streaming live events to all screens with latency levels that rival traditional broadcast TV, create streaming platforms that can keep pace with new OTT options and put cable ops on a path toward all-IP delivery, and new technologies that can streamline and virtualize the underlying services delivery network.
With prime examples that hit on these key areas, the shortlisted companies in the 2019 Leading Lights category of Most Innovative Cable/Video Product or Service are:
- Alticast Apex
- Broadpeak nanoCDN Multicast ABR Low Latency & Device Synch
- Casa Systems Video Gateway (CVG10)
- Comcast Business X1 for Business
- Evolution Digital eMERGE
- Intraway Symphonica
- Synacor Forever Login & Device Management
- SK Telecom Personalized Media Discovery Service
Here's a snapshot on why each made the shortlist:
Serving up a better customer experience is all the rage these days in pay-TV land. With leading OTT video providers like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu luring viewers away from traditional pay-TV providers in large part by delivering a superior customer experience, cable operators and other legacy service providers are now scrambling to compete by raising the level of their own customer experience.
Specifically, Apex features such key functionalities as: a graphics-based, visually enhanced UI; continuous upgrades executed every one to two months; and the elimination of the need to manage, service and update multiple UX versions. As a result, Alticast claims that the virtualized UI solution enables operators to offer viewers a high-quality video service with optimized and personalized user experiences and respond quickly to any changes in viewing habits, while simultaneously delivering enhanced user experiences to multiple platforms, including legacy devices.
A leading South Korean cable provider serving both homes and hotel chains recently launched its next-gen service with Apex. By empowering full-service management flexibility for each hotel chain within a consolidated management portal system, Apex ensures quick service updates and efficient service operation. It also supports different service apps for each hotel chain and enables providers to manage their pay-TV service through an integrated operational tool at a single source.
Broadpeak nanoCDN Multicast ABR Low Latency & Device Synch
Broadpeak's nanoCDN takes direct aim at two key areas of OTT video -- synching up the delivery of live TV feeds across multiple screens and cutting down latency to a number that puts streaming video on par with traditional TV services.
With respect to latency, Broadpeak claims that it can support end-to-end delivery to a mere two seconds, compared to 30 seconds or more for what's typically seen for OTT-TV services using a combination of multicast delivery and CMAF (Common Media Application Format) "chunking" that greatly reduces load time and accelerates the video processing process, thus allowing the system to pass video packets along as soon as the first bytes are received. Notably, the company's latter focus on CMAF enables Broadpeak to take advantage of and expand on an efficient media file format standard that originated from a collaboration between Microsoft and Apple.
As OTT-delivered pay-TV services continue to gravitate to a large audiences, rather than a small niche of early adopters, it's become increasingly important for that experience to more closely mirror that of regular TV for sporting matches and games, awards shows and other live events involving surprises and big reveals that some portions of the audience also tend to track on Twitter and other social media outlets. Broadpeak says its technology is also optimized to ensure that the OTT viewing of a live show is synched up among all video devices in the home rather than being staggered.
By resolving a latency issue that has plagued OTT-TV, and an area that, by the way, has become a target for other video tech vendors, Broadpeak reasons that it gives pay-TV a way to switch from older managed IPTV technology to full, more bandwidth-efficient adaptive bit rate systems.
Casa Systems Video Gateway (CVG10)
Delivering video more effectively and efficiently to new audiences is also top of the mind for Casa Systems right now. So, the cable access network vendor has come out with a new gateway designed to make it easier for cable operators to deliver broadcast video over the rapidly evolving access network.
Introduced in May 2018, Casa's CVG 10, when combined with Converged Cable Access Platform (CCAP) and Distributed Access Architecture (DAA), allows cable providers to capture, manage, and deliver broadcast video from their existing broadcast QAM architectures without having to modify their existing back office solution. With this solution, Casa says, cable operators no longer need to change their existing methodologies to ingest and manage the broadcast lineups for their customer base. As a result, operators can maintain their legacy environments as they continue to upgrade their methods for delivering broadcast video, such as though IP video, customized lineups and Switched Digital Video (SDV).
Also, cable operators often must remove all analog components that provide content to realize the full spectral efficiencies of the DAA architecture, which can be very challenging. The Casa solution uses the CVG and the Casa C100G CCAP to extract the broadcast content from the existing broadcast QAM, convert it from RF to multicast for both encrypted and non-encrypted flows, and then build channel lineups to deliver the content to all the different service groups.
Once the broadcast flows are in the CCAP environment, Casa says, they can be combined with narrowcast and HSD QAMs and sent downstream to the DAA node, where the flows are then converted back to the original RF channels. By keeping all the flows in the CCAP system and increasing the MER in the node, the gateway enables operators o implement higher order modulation techniques. In turn, these techniques can then increase the throughput and the overall spectral efficiency of the HFC network.
Comcast Business X1 for Business
After establishing X1 as the next-gen platform for residential services, Comcast has continued to find new work -- and returns -- on its cloud-based video platform. After extending X1 to college campuses and select apartments, Comcast has since tailored a version of X1 for small- and medium-sized businesses.
That new offering enables the Comcast Business unit to stoke its revenue growth (Q4 2018 revenues at the unit were $1.8 billion, up 9.5%) while also giving various restaurants, hotels, gyms and other SMBs in its footprint access to a video service that does more than feed live TV. It also supports other hallmarks of the Emmy Award-winning X1, including the cloud-powered guide, the X1 voice remote and an integrated sports app that allows business owners to quickly tune to live games in progress and also pull up real-time stats from those individual games and show them on-screen. Hotels also have the option to launch and feature in-house promotional/information channels and concierge-style apps on their TV lineups.
In addition to pumping more video-related revenues alongside broadband connectivity, the addition of X1 to the Comcast Business lineup gives the unit a weapon to retain clients and carve into a competitive hospitality market that includes satellite TV rivals such as Dish Network and DirecTV.
Evolution Digital eMERGE
Rather than ceding video market share to various new OTT-TV rivals, Evolution Digital's eMERGE platform has come on the scene to help tier 2/3 cable operators launch and deploy next-gen video services and experiences for mobile devices, as well as an array of retail and operator-supplied TV-connected devices... and do so without breaking the bank.
eMERGE, which features an operator-customizable user interface and an integrated back-office platform, also puts operators in position themselves as master integrators, able to blend their pay-TV services with increasingly popular OTT services. In addition to helping to keep the customer's eyes on the operator's platform, eMERGE puts operators on an all-IP video service migration, enabling them to deliver other advanced features such as network DVR, catch-up and start-over services.
While supporting retail devices with operator-managed apps is key to eMERGE, the platform also gives partners a way to sell or lease relatively inexpensive Android TV devices. Those 4K-capable boxes, offered under Google's Android TV Operator Tier, boot to the operator's pay-TV app but still support other apps available in the massive Google Play store.
Evolution Digital -- which counts Mediacom Communications, WideOpenWest and TDS Telecom among its customers -- has likewise pushed ahead with eMERGE despite a sizable group of other challengers focused on that market, including MobiTV, TiVo and Espial.
Virtualization is another key theme among this year's group of Leading Lights finalists. Take Intraway's Symphonica, which is a flexible orchestration engine designed to manage complex orchestration processes by supporting high-volume transactions efficiently with zero-touch service order management and open APIs. Intraway claims that one of Symphonica's main appeals is that it can increase operators' agility to deploy new services (future IP & Dynamic Services) and simplify existing services management, thereby saving the operators millions of dollars a year.
Intraway says Symphonica offers numerous other benefits as well. These include: improved efficiency per transaction in the fulfillment process; increased effectiveness in the fulfillment process; higher throughput and quality in the service delivery team; reduced operational cost growth; and improved customer experience during the service lifecycle, establishing the foundation to support future operation models such as self-care and self-provisioning, APIs for easier integration into analytics and advanced diagnosis tools. With the help of all of these benefits, operators can reduce the time-to-market and opex in the provisioning area, as well as support reworks.
In a recent proof of concept tested in CableLabs' Kyrio labs, Symphonica facilitated multi-level orchestration of a virtual Converged Cable Access Platform (vCCAP) and Remote PHY over a virtual network infrastructure. The collaborative PoC demonstrated how a vCCAP operates in a true NFV environment by interfacing with Intraways Symphonica Orchestrator using native NETCONF/YANG APIs, and also advances and validates the CableLabs SDN/NFV Application Development Platform and Stack (SNAPS) project. By making it easier to manage, configure and adopt both DAA and vCCAP, Intraway says the collaborative PoC shows how to make a smooth transition into a software-centric, modular-deployed world with an open, orchestrated, ready-to-implement strategy to deploy any network resource with a virtualized core.
Synacor Forever Login & Device Management
Simplifying and streamlining the authentication process has been the bane of TV Everywhere ever since pay-TV providers and individual programmers began to launch video apps several years ago. While inputting one's credentials to access TVE content seems simple enough, it has remained a source of consumer friction concerning TVE adoption and usage and has likewise given rise to a password-sharing issue.
Synacor, a pioneer in the TVE authentication sector, has tackled both of those challenges -- simplicity and a check on password-sharing -- with its new Forever Login & Device Management offering. Under the approach, the system securely registers customers' devices so that when they first sign in with their pay-TV account to access an authenticated app, they never have to re-enter those credentials again. With that trust established, customers can access the app inside or outside the home without having to dig up a user name and password.
In addition to removing some friction and draconian policies from the sign-in process, the solution enables partners (programmers and service providers alike) to set a max number of devices allowed to stream concurrently from a single account.
For Synacor, which works with partners such as Dish Network and HBO for its HBO Go TVE app, the new offering represents a key advancement in app authentication while also allowing it to remain competitive with rival platforms such as Adobe Pass and MCTV's Watch TV Everywhere.
SK Telecom Personalized Media Discovery Service
As linear TV channels expand and VoD library vaults broaden, pay-TV subscribers now face the paradox of choice -- anxiety and indecision caused by the sheer number of options available.
To get a grip on this issue and to filter down the content that customers would be interested in viewing, South Korea's SK Telecom has tapped the power of AI to enable personalized content recommendations for oksusu, a top OTT media service provider in the market.
Though the use of AI-assisted keyword tagging technology and natural language processing, SK Telecom says, the system enables those customers to rapidly identify characteristics of video content without actually viewing it. Following a commercial rollout last fall, SK Telecom said the resulting recommended list of content optimized for each user had enabled the oksusu service to achieve viewing rates that are 5.5 times higher what they were before the technology was introduced.
Thanks to those results, SK Telecom has likewise developed an AI-based scene discovery technology that it intends to apply to its IPTV service, B tv, later this spring. That system will analyze images, music, location and "situational information" to help users pinpoint specific scenes within TV shows and movies and automate that process without laboriously reviewing and searching for those scenes manually.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading; and Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading