NEW ORLEANS -- SCTE Cable-Tec Expo -- After years of uncertainty around the timeline for a migration to all-IP video, Comcast has put a stake in the ground. Speaking on the opening panel for the SCTE Cable-Tec Expo today, CTO Tony Werner revealed that during the first quarter of 2016, Comcast will have all of its linear and VoD services available over IP. In fact, according to Werner, 95% of the company's footprint already has all video services available in IP. The final 5% will join the rest of the group early next year.
To be clear, this does not mean that all of Comcast's subscribers will receive their pay-TV services in IP in the near term. There is still a large base of legacy set-tops in the field, and Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK) will continue to deliver QAM-based video for some time to come.
However, even on that point, Werner had a substantial update to share.
"By the end of next year we'll have deployed eight million IP set-tops," declared Werner.
Werner and others see the move to IP video as critical as more and more connected devices enter the scene. While some viewers will continue to use Comcast's set-tops for subscription video, an increasing number will use other devices and screens that cable operators need to be able to reach – hence the reason that Comcast is also working on an Xfinity app for retail media streamers and smart TVs. (See Here Come the TV Apps!.)
"I think if you don't have your video in IP, or a way of getting it in IP," said Werner, "you're going to miss a big part of the audience, and a growing part, not a shrinking part."
He also a cited a stat that Comcast now sees, on a weekly basis, between 15 and 20 million video starts on second screens, a number that is expected to continue to grow.
Werner's revelations about Comcast's IP video activities dovetailed nicely with a debate among the panel members about how content will be stored and accessed in the future. The use of IP is a given for delivery, but the question of whether video moves entirely to the cloud or whether there's still a role for local storage precipitated a much more nuanced discussion.
CableLabs president and CEO Phil McKinney spoke about the impact of exponential memory; the idea that we're entering an era when storage is so cheap and plentiful that everything – every bit and byte of data – can be stored and kept forever.
"The network's the constraining factor," said McKinney. He added, "What we're going to see is the cloud basically get blown up. It's going to be really micro-clouds, and we're going to have a cloud in our pocket."
However, Werner was more cautious in his forecast, saying that he doesn't think the cloud is going to blow up, but that it will be augmented by lots of storage in the home. There are several advantages to this. One is redundancy, but another is the ability to move between devices and still access information and content seamlessly. The prime example here is a consumer starting a video on the living-room TV screen and finishing that video up in bed on a tablet. This is why, Werner explained, Comcast will continue put a lot of investment into its cloud video product.
There are other benefits that come with the cloud too, including the ability to do complex processing like the kind needed for a natural language, voice-enabled interface. On that front, Werner had yet another update to share. Comcast's X1 Answers solution, which CEO Brian Roberts demonstrated at the Internet & Television Expo in May, will be launching in the middle of November. The technology lets users talk to the X1 platform, ask questions and give voice commands.
"I think it's going to change a lot of things," said Werner.
— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading