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Cable Technology Feature Article

November 08, 2013

Cable Technology Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

The global pay TV market continued to grow (at a modest 3 percent) in the first two quarters of 2013, adding 23 million new subscribers, the pay TV market in North America grew at its slowest pace ever, due to market saturation. Ongoing third-quarter results show continuing hard times for cable as it continues to suffer subscriber losses, though satellite is bouncing back and IPTV (News - Alert) continues to win market share. Case in point: Time Warner Cable shocked Wall Street with its enormous subscriber losses, attributable, the company said, to the recent CBS and Showtime blackout, but AT&T saw good gains in its U-verse fiber-fed TV and triple-play service for the third quarter of 2013, topping 10 million subscribers and generating its first $1 billion month in revenue during the quarter. Verizon meanwhile picked up a healthy net 135,000 FiOS (News - Alert) video subscribers in the third quarter to reach a 35 percent take-rate in its footprint, which passes 18.3 million premises. The top 5 pay-TV distributors are now Comcast (News - Alert), DirecTV, DISH, Time Warner Cable and Verizon.

Cable may be suffering, over-the-top (OTT) darling Aereo, which offers local broadcast feeds over the Internet, keeps growing. This week it launched in the metro Denver area, which includes 67 counties in Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska. Much to broadcaster chagrin, consumers will be able to use Aereo's unique antenna/DVR technology to record and watch more than 40 over-the-air channels including the major networks, among others, for $8 per month. Earlier this year company expanded to the Boston, Atlanta, Miami, Salt Lake City, Houston, Dallas and Detroit metropolitan areas. Officials with Aereo said that the company plans to announce additional launch dates for its expansion cities throughout the remainder of the year. Chet Kanojia, CEO and founder, Aereo, noted that Denver is a growing and dynamic tech hub, making it a perfect location for the service, which, so far, faces not legal action there.

Samsung (News - Alert) has added an OTT service for its smart TVs called VTV.  Working with real-time video content marketing platform Visible Measures Samsung has developed the service to consist of curated Internet videos, selected by editors and programmed into the aforementioned playlists to represent engaging, trending and topical video content. 

Other OTT plans don’t seem to be going so well. Intel (News - Alert) is reportedly ready to pull the plug on its set-top box-based TV service plan, with the intention of giving control of Intel Media, the unit responsible for TV development, to partner Verizon Communications. The plan has been to allow users to bundle TV channels a la carte, paying only for what they want to watch. And, it planned on securing the distribution rights to standard cable nets in order to closely replicate the content stables of mainstream pay-TV providers like Comcast. But after prolonged talks with media companies like Time Warner, NBCUniversal and Viacom to license TV shows and movies, it appears that fulfilling that model would come at a premium that would render Intel incapable of pricing the service competitively. Last month the company said that it was looking for strategic partners for Intel Media, signaling ongoing issues.

Meanwhile, there is debate afoot on the regulatory front: As the Federal Communications Commission mulls a spectrum incentive auction framework ahead of the upcoming sale of local broadcasters’ unused analog TV signals to mobile carriers, the plan is to do a two-sided auction for the spectrum. The FCC will first pay broadcasters a fair value for their assets, before selling it to the highest-bidding mobile carriers in a separate action. But it’s also weighing bidding restrictions on AT&T and Verizon to promote competition, something that The Expanding Opportunities for Broadcasters Coalition (EOBC) and the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) say will backfire. It’s also considering “scoring” the spectrum on a market-by-market basis, by taking into account the relative values of low-band and high-band spectrum and population covered.

EOBC and CEA say that FCC bidding restrictions could reduce incentive auction revenues by nearly $5.8 billion, even if restrictions are placed on just 50 percent of the available spectrum. And, a proposal to lower the prices paid to broadcasters for their spectrum licenses by scoring TV stations would give low-scoring affiliates an incentive to forego participation in the auction and pursue alternative options in the marketplace, they added.

U.S. military bases in Okinawa are getting online video access: Mediatti Broadband Communications has selected PeerApp’s UltraBand transparent caching platform to deliver Internet video and data content with quality of service. It’s no small feat: serving these communities presents unique challenges. Mediatti’s customers use almost 80% more data per month than the typical US household and demand is highly variable based on large-scale personnel movements. A high proportion of this content originates from the US mainland, exposing it to delays from trans-Pacific links. PeerApp UltraBand helps operators deliver content and manage spikes in demand by automatically detecting and storing popular content, and delivering it locally. This has the double-benefit of accelerating content delivery while reducing dependence on bandwidth-constrained overseas links. “Our customers regularly tell me the Internet is their lifeline while serving our country in a distant location such as Okinawa,” said Mike Erickson, president and CEO of Mediatti.

OTT, cable and broadcasting: big changes are underway on all of these disparate markets. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the year holds. Have a great weekend!

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