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Cable Technology Feature Article

August 17, 2013

Cable Technology Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Sometimes, to misquote Forrest Gump, pay-TV news is like a box of chocolates: you just never know what you’re going to get. This week was one of those truffle-caramel-or-cream weeks, as the cable world saw a big TV premiere, a pair of interesting acquisitions, some technology launches and at least one regulatory development of note. In short—a disparate array of unrelated yet nonetheless interesting news bits.

The biggest story on the programming front is without a doubt the season premiere of “Duck Dynasty,” the story of a tight-knit Louisiana family who made it big with its selection of duck calls. It drew in fully 11.8 million viewers, the largest audience EVER for a non-fiction series on cable, with its mix of unexpected humor, uplifting messages and prodigious beards. A&E's hit was a record-breaker across many demographics, including the prized 18 to 49-year-old market, which saw a massive 5.0 rating, representing around 6.3 million people total. That's up a full 26 percent from a year ago, and beats the ratings for any series anywhere since the April 15 episode of “The Voice” on NBC. Only one cable reality show ever did better than this, an episode of “Jon & Kate” from June 2009, which pulled in 6.5 million people in the 18 to 49-year-old demographic. What's more, for the slightly modified 25 to 54-year-old market, the “Duck Dynasty” premiere pulled in 6.3 million viewers, a feat which hadn't been accomplished since an episode of “Trading Spaces” from almost a decade prior.

Moving on from Louisiana and beards to Washington D.C. and FCC wonks, Gary Kim (News - Alert) talked competition in a column on the FCC’s upcoming auctions for vacated TV broadcast spectrum. Despite the conventional wisdom that having four national providers in the market equals thriving competition, that concept may not be a realistic expectation, he noted. One line of thinking is that more competition would occur if AT&T (News - Alert) and Verizon Wireless, the market leaders, were not allowed to bid on, or acquire, as much spectrum in those auctions as might be possible. It is not uncommon, nor irrational, for national regulators, intent on creating and maintaining robustly competitive mobile markets, to conclude that some minimum amount of competition is required to obtain the benefits of innovation in the business. The corollary is that any proposed reduction of providers to three, for example, is opposed on policy grounds. But recent deals between Verizon and some U.S. cable operators, allowing each to distribute the other provider’s products, have raised the specter of diminishing competition. As Kim points out, the argument is that Verizon increasingly will emphasize its mobile offerings, while cable TV operators increasingly are allowed to take fixed network broadband share, reducing the potential amount of competition, at least in the high speed access business (both fixed and mobile).

Here’s a bit of technology news: regional cable MSO General Communications Inc. (GCI) is deploying a new Pace home gateway with TiVo (News - Alert) on board. The Pace XG1 Multi-Tuner Video Gateway is equipped with a TiVo Advanced User Interface platform, providing its customers with linear TV, VOD and interactive content that can be used on multiple platforms. “The Pace/TiVo solution offers our subscribers TiVo’s award winning user interface to access and discover VOD and linear TV content, together with personalized recommendations and powerful search and discovery capabilities,” said Bob Ormberg, vice president of content and product development at GCI. “It also offers total platform flexibility for software development and service enhancements from our trusted and longstanding CPE partner, Pace.”

Meanwhile, BroadSoft is headed to the U.K. thanks to the acquisition of a European communications-as-a-service provider called Hosted IP Communications (Europe) Ltd. Inc. (HICOM). BroadSoft is a pioneer in outfitting service providers like the U.S.-based cablecos and telcos with software to expedite the delivery of IP-based unified communications to business users, and now will be expanding the reach of its PBX services across the pond. The value of the HICOM deal, which was announced today, was not disclosed. But the acquisition of HICOM is expected to bring BroadSoft an additional $500,000 in revenue to its third quarter 2013 results and $1.6 million in revenue in 2013. Earlier this month BroadSoft announced its second quarter results, reporting $44 million in revenue, which was a 9-percent increase from the year-ago period, and a new loss of $3 million.

Looking at leveraging the next generation of social media-based ad-hoc stringers, NBC News has acquired Stringwire, a specialist in gathering eyewitness user-generated video content, and has hired its founder Phil Groman. Stringers are a time-worn element of creating global news coverage, particularly in times of war and turmoil. From the journalists who deployed written dispatches from the frontlines of the Civil War via horse messenger to the teletype-dependent AP stringers of the Vietnam War, the eyes on the ground have played a critical role in recording world events. Stringwire was developed by Groman as a service for news organizations to harness the eye-on-the-street aspect of modern newsgathering. As was proven in coverage of everything from the Arab Spring to the riots in Turkey to Hurricane Sandy, eyewitnesses uploading mobile video and pictures to Twitter (News - Alert) and other social feeds provides an invaluable real-time view of events as they unfold, in a way that traditional news teams cannot replicate. Aside from Groman’s use of Stringwire during Hurricane Sandy and the Kenyan elections, NBC News will be the first media organization to use the technology for live event coverage.

When it comes to set-top boxes for viewing video, one of the biggest names in town is definitely Roku. But with a variety of competitors coming to the fore, the front of the line is under constant threat from outsiders, and this requires regular innovation to be brought into play just to hold position. Roku isn't shying away from that task, however, and has rolled out an update to its iOS app that offers new utility for those using both Roku and a bit of iOS hardware. With Roku's 2.3 update, the “Play on Roku” feature gets a little extra power. Essentially working like a kind of Apple AirPlay mechanism for Roku, Play on Roku allows users to stream content from iOS gear—it also at last report works with Android (News - Alert) devices—and offers several different functions depending on the type of media presented. For instance, when the Roku is used to play music from a device, cover art and information about the artist is also presented, along with the ability to run songs over slideshows. Additionally, the Roku iOS app allows users to browse Roku channels and convert an iOS device into a remote control, and offers several other features as well. The Play on Roku feature, at last report, can be found on Roku 3, Roku2, newer Roku HD and Roku LT players, as well as the Roku Streaming Stick.

From Duck Dynasty to cool Roku upgrades, the pay-TV world saw a range of happenings this week. We’ll see if any trends coalesce next week, but for now, have a great weekend!

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