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Video services

Leading Lights Finalists 2014: Most Innovative Video Service

While broadband technology may appear to be the fastest-growing force in the world, video is still king.

More than ever, cable companies, telcos, satellite TV providers, and others are trumpeting new video services, features, or apps, such as network DVRs, cloud-based programming guides, multiscreen video, streaming video, and 4K TV. Consumers are snapping up mobile devices with video capabilities by the boatload, whether those devices be tablets, smartphones, game consoles, or some other electronic gadgets. Businesses are increasingly turning to videoconferencing and webcasts to communicate with their employees, customers, and shareholders. And video is taking over the Internet, with Netflix alone accounting for up to one-third of Internet traffic during peak periods.

With so much video around us all the time anywhere and everywhere we go, video service providers are finding it harder and harder to differentiate their offerings from those of their competitors. Seeking the ever-elusive competitive edge in a world inundated by video, service providers are trying to stand out by pushing the envelope further, or at least in a different direction. They're also trying to stand out by striking creative deals with partners that enable them to enter new markets and court new customers.

As a result, there have been scores of innovative video services introduced around the world since last spring. This giant wave of releases has produced a strong lineup of entries for most innovative video service of the year. These entries cover many aspects of the video market, including consumer electronics devices, cloud-based residential services, and commercial services.

In selecting the three finalists for this category, we looked for video services that have made strong early headway in the market, earned favorable reviews from independent third parties, and/or created strong industry buzz with an innovative approach. We also looked for services from new entrants that are bucking the industry's pecking order, as well as services from established players that broke new ground in their market.

You can take a look at the entire roster of Leading Lights finalists here. Here are the three innovative video services that qualified for this year's short list of finalists (presented in alphabetical order.

Time Warner Cable Business Class -- HD Video for Healthcare -- Set Back Box
Like a number of other major US cable operators, Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) has been seeking ways to boost its role in the healthcare business by offering more innovative products and services to hospitals, medical centers, doctors' offices, long-term care centers, and other facilities. In one of its latest moves, the MSO introduced a new HD video solution for healthcare facilities in February.

The new solution, known simply as HD Video for Healthcare, is designed to deliver a home-like TV viewing experience for patients in medical facilities. The service offers more than 100 HD channels, thousands of free video-on-demand (VoD) movies and shows, a simple, interactive programming guide, music channels, international video, and the ability to pause live TV programs. It also allows facilities to insert local channels for in-house video content

In addition, the TWC solution uses small "set back" boxes from Advanced Digital Broadcast (ADB) , rather than much larger, conventional digital cable set-top boxes, that can be mounted on the backs of the TV sets. Plus, the service works with bedside pillow speakers.

Both TW Cable and frequent partner Bright House Networks have also been offering the HD Video set-back solution to hotels. But now TWC sees the health care market as a promising target as it uses its video secret weapon to compete against the telcos and other Internet service providers.

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TiVo Inc. -- TiVo Roamio
In one of its biggest moves of the past year, TiVo Inc. (Nasdaq: TIVO) introduced its new lineup of three Roamio set-top boxes last summer and immediately put cable's TV Everywhere efforts to shame. In particular, the DVR pioneer rolled out two higher-end Roamio Plus and Roamio Pro boxes that can record up to 450 hours of HD programming, simultaneously record up to six shows at once and, most notably, stream live and recorded programming to multiple video screens both inside and outside the home. Users can also download shows to an Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) iOS device or Android for offline viewing.

Cable companies have been pushing hard with their own multiscreen video services that enable subscribers to watch select programming over the Internet or to stream live linear content to a number of screens connected to a home WiFi network. But MSOs are just beginning to extend those multiscreen services beyond the home and give consumers access to their entire linear-channel lineups on the go, due mainly to pesky content rights concerns.

Since their debut last August, the three TiVo Roamio DVRs, which are sold at retail, have earned rave reviews from critics and consumers alike for its power, flexibility, and ease of use. But that doesn't mean that TiVo, once a cable rival and now the industry's best-friend-for-life, has left cable operators in the lurch.

Indeed, working in tandem with TiVo, a number of major North American and European MSOs have already incorporated the technology behind the advanced Roamio service into their own leased set-top boxes for subscribers. Plus, several are also using the T6, which is the customized MSO version of the Roamio platform, to offer the leading OTT video service from Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) to their video customers. That group includes Virgin Media Inc. (Nasdaq: VMED), Suddenlink Communications , RCN Corp. , and Grande Communications .

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Ziggo BV -- Cloud-Based Interactive Cable VoD With No Set-Top Box
Ziggo B.V. has been in the news lately because of its acquisition by Liberty Global Inc. (Nasdaq: LBTY). But the big Dutch MSO is noteworthy for far more than just becoming another piece of John's Malone ever-expanding international cable empire.

Specifically, Ziggo, the largest MSO in the Netherlands with 2.3 million digital cable subscribers, made cable history of sorts last November when it began rolling out its complete pay-TV service to TVs without separate set-top boxes. Instead of the usual clunky, chunky set-tops, Ziggo is offering a "box-less solution" to customers by using small, removable security modules that can be inserted into the televisions.

These modules, which are called CI+3 and resemble the CableCARD security module used in the US, work with more than 250 TV set models, including such popular brands as LG Electronics Inc. (London: LGLD; Korea: 6657.KS) , Royal Philips Electronics N.V. (NYSE: PHG; Amsterdam: PHI) , and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC). But unlike the CableCARD modules, which support linear TV lineups but not VoD services, the CI+3 modules support both linear TV channels and interactive VoD services.

Most notably, the CI+3 modules support the new cloud-based video services that Ziggo has been deploying for more than a year. These services, which rely on a platform supplied by ActiveVideo , include an interactive VoD service. Ziggo has now made this CloudTV platform available to more than 600,000 cable homes and actually activated the service in more than 300,000 of them.

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Let me know what you think of these most innovative video service finalists. Feel free to weigh in on the message boards below, suggest alternatives, and make your case for your personal favorites. We welcome your comments (especially if they're somewhat profound and not too profane).

The Leading Lights winners and latest Hall of Fame inductees will be revealed at the Leading Lights awards dinner, which will be held the evening of Tuesday, June 17 at the star-gazing Adler Planetarium. (For more details, see Bumper Year for the Leading Lights Awards.)

After the big night out, we'll stagger our way over the next morning for the second day of the Big Telecom Event, which takes place at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers on June 17-18. (Details and the agenda are on our show site, Big Telecom Event.)

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— Alan Breznick, Cable/Video Practice Leader, Light Reading

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