Cable Technology Feature Article
Cable Technology Week in Review
By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor
Are you a Million Second Quiz fan? One of our writers would take you head to head on that. “We all know the phrase ‘Time is Money.’ In fact, that should have been the tagline for what is likely to go down as the ill-conceived, ill-fated and heavily promoted NBC show Million Second Quiz (aka MSQ) that is now in progress,” writes Peter Bernstein, TMC senior editor. “What is wrong with this program? Let me count the ways, and then feel free to add your own if you have indulged your trivia passion on this.” He not only applied to be on the show, but a few weeks ago answered a series of questions and was invited to New York City to meet with the casting directors and be videoed. The session was to see if he had what it took to be what he was told was one of the 1,110 contestants needed to fill up the time. His experience left him with more than a few thoughts on the show.
Aside from MSQ, this week’s Apple (News - Alert) event captivated the public. The launch was all about the new iPhones (Plural! Gold! Plastic!), but Apple is planning a revamp for its TV strategy as well, according to sources familiar with the company. According to Peter Kafka over at AllThingsD, Apple has scheduled an “internal overhaul” of its Apple TV software for Sept. 18, which, incidentally, is the same date that iOS 7 is scheduled to be pushed out. Assuming that the long-rumored Apple HD connected TV isn’t part of the equation—yet—then the software launch will bring some new approaches to its existing palm-sized streaming box. Kafka said that one feature that Apple’s working on is a new version of AirPlay (News - Alert), which is the feature that lets iTunes users stream content from one device to another over an in-home wireless connection. The new version will allow consumers to stream their content from their device to someone else’s Apple TV—so the iTunes accounts that paired devices are connected to no longer need to match, and content can be streamed directly from the cloud.
Apple should definitely be rethinking its iTunes strategy given that online video consumption continues to cross the chasm into mainstream. New research has revealed that more than half—51 percent—of the U.S. population aged 13 to 54 now watches TV programs or movies online, at least once a week. According to a GfK report, the weekly streaming audience for TV and movies in the U.S. has risen from 37 percent three years ago to 48 percent in 2012, and edged over the halfway point in the past year. Putting big wind into the sales is the fact that connected TVs, mobile devices, videogame consoles, Blu-ray players and the like have expanded the availability for using streaming services such as Netflix beyond the computer. And that has turned a niche, tech-head phenomenon into a mainstream entertainment source.
In other news, IBC kicked off in Amsterdam this week, and is set to run over the weekend and into next week. It’s making for a rash of vendor and operator announcements. For instance, HISPASAT is talking up its recently launched trial demonstration of UltraHD content delivery using the High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC) compression capabilities of the Thomson (News - Alert) Video Networks ViBE VS7000 multiscreen encoding platform. HISPASAT, a satellite transmission operator with a strong presence in Europe and South America, is installing the VS7000 to deliver HEVC-encoded Ultra HD content to air via its HISPASAT 1E satellite platform. HISPASAT will showcase live Ultra HD video streams at IBC.
“This demonstration plays an important role in our plans to promote the deployment of the most cutting-edge compression and delivery formats - giving our customers the ability to offer their viewers the absolute highest-quality viewing experience,” said Ignacio Sanchis, chief commercial officer at HISPASAT. “With the Thomson Video Networks technology, we are hoping to create awareness within our customer base and deliver live Ultra HD streams that can be used in many different ways.”
Sky Italia also said that it has picked Piksel’s digital assets management implementation, which extends the functionality of the Piksel VCMS suite including tools like the multi-DRM tool (Piksel Guard) and the smart video player, Piksel Show. The Italian pay-TV platform Sky Italia offers more than 180 thematic and pay-per-view channels, offering movies, sports, news, entertainment and kids’ programming. Sky also offers a pack of 60 HD channels and one channel dedicated to 3D programs. The enhanced digital asset management or DAM implementation was possible following the adoption of the Piksel VCMS platform. The improved feature set in the solution allows Sky Italia to organize its digital assets so that users can find, view and edit content easily.
Meanwhile, Aframe, a cloud video production and asset management system, has contracted with the BBC to work on the primetime reality TV show “Shoplife.” Aframe helped the show producers quickly deliver rushes from on-location filming to the post house in London without the need for shipping multiple HD cards, allowing for cost savings on the production from transporting rushes to London.
David Peto, CEO at Aframe, commented, “We have a long affiliation with the BBC and are proud to help them achieve cost-savings that otherwise couldn’t be accomplished. As broadcasters cope with the complexities of producing content for traditional TV channels as well as Web, radio and mobile platforms, they are embracing Aframe as a powerful way to centralize, simplify and streamline operations with an eye to the future.”
Aframe viewed “Shoplife” as an example that typified its value to the entire broadcast production chain. The show had more than 900 hours of footage shot for six one-hour episodes that stored more than 580 HD cards. Aframe helped BBC avert over 20 TB of capital investment funding for storage and Aframe’s advanced logging capability saved significant time over other Word or Excel-based approaches.
Back on this side of the pond, we saw some movement on the regulatory front. Hot on the heels of a 32-day blackout of CBS-owned channels for Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable subscribers, video retransmission rules were the subject of a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on the pay TV marketplace this week. Broadcasters and cable providers alike are girding their loins for battle, against the backdrop of a new proposal that would remove much of the networks’ leverage when it comes to disputes over fees. Existing rules require cable, satellite, IPTV and online providers to pay retransmission fees to the big national networks—ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and so on—to include their programming on their basic TV tiers. The program inclusion is also required, hence the FCC’s “must-carry” designation for the broadcast feeds. In recent years, the amount of money broadcasters are asking from pay-TV companies has escalated, prompting nasty disputes that in some cases, like in the recent Time Warner Cable-CBS dispute, have resulted in blackouts for consumers. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif), ranking Democrat on the House Communications Subcommittee, earlier this week proposed the Video CHOICE Act, would give the FCC the authority to force broadcasters to keep their feeds on the air during negotiations—removing most of their leverage.
And finally, Ericsson (News - Alert) closed its previously announced acquisition of Microsoft's Mediaroom IPTV platform. Mediaroom staff, which includes 400 employees, will be integrated into the Ericsson group under the Business Unit Support Solutions. Mediaroom is based in Mountain View, California.
Ericsson paid a chuck of change for the platform, too: "This deal is within range where we previously bought a company called Optimi for $99 million and where we also bought LG Nortel for $234 million," said Ove Anebygd, vice president and head of TV at Ericsson, when the deal was announced. "So this is somewhere in between the two."
Mediaroom is a video platform designed to enable operators to deliver IPTV-based pay-TV subscription services on a range of devices both inside and outside the home, including wired and Wi-Fi set top boxes, Xbox 360, PCs, tablets, smartphones and other connected devices. Mediaroom-based TV services are offered by over 60 service providers, and serve nearly 13 million households and 24 million set-top boxes.
I think that’s it. We have an IBC 2013 roundup planned for next week. Until then, have a great weekend!