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Cable Technology Feature Article

December 21, 2013

Cable Technology Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

We’re getting close to the end of the year and everyone’s scrambling to get those final announcements in—so it’s no wonder it’s been a busy week for cable tech news!

First off, the race for the hearts and minds of the digitized TV viewer continues apace, with Time Warner Cable becoming the latest to supercharge its subscription perks via the cloud, with a network-based DVR and VOD portal. TWC isn’t alone in deploying these types of middleware and STBs. Comcast’s (News - Alert) Xfinity X1, Liberty Global’s Horizon platform, DirecTV’s Genie DVR and DISH’s Hopper DVR all allow for similar feature sets with additional perks, like commercial-skipping for VOD content in DISH’s case. And Charter will trial a new cloud interface in Ft. Worth, it said in October. Will these act as differentiators?

Following on from the cloud concept, blended or hybrid TV services that combine digital content and over-the-top (OTT) services with traditional television offer pay TV operators new ways to engage viewers and drive monetization. It's a space that's starting to heat up, especially in Europe and among regional ILECs in the United States, and it's one that SeaChange International will be hitting hard during its 2014 International CES (News - Alert) debut in January.

But why invest in a pay-TV service that can deliver such features when you can just turn your existing PC into one? That's the premise behind a new product called Smarty PCTV. The free piece of software was conceived in a McGyver-esque odyssey after the digital switchover in Ireland, which made analog TV sets obsolete. The founder experimented with using a Roku player and Apple (News - Alert) TV with his old set in order to extend its life and avoid investing in a digital set. The experience was lackluster, so he jury-rigged a discarded eight-year-old PC as a main TV device, and created a TV interface for it.

Maybe you’re willing to shell out for a smart TV because you want HD—well, there will soon be the next generation of high-res coming to market, and that’s creating opportunity throughout the ecosystem. As higher-definition displays come to market, particularly 4K UltraHD, new compression technologies are being developed to help operators and content providers deliver media efficiently, even if the raw files are much larger than standard definition or 720p HD. The move to use HEVC compression in particular is spurring operator upgrades in the multi-format transcoder market, with tangible impacts expected in 2014 and beyond, according to research firm MRG.

Meanwhile, in multiplatform news, the UK's newest broadcast venture, BT Sport, has tapped Accenture for an end-to-end video solution spanning live streaming, VOD, mobile app development and cloud services. The broadband-based TV channel was launched on August 1, ahead of the start of the Barclays Premier League football season. It will build on BT’s acquisition of live broadcast rights to 38 Barclays Premier League football games for three seasons, along with Aviva Premiership Rugby, Women’s Tennis Association matches and MotoGP beginning in 2014. Its multiplatform approach will be a key to its success, which is where Accenture comes in.

Then there’s the streaming news of the week: Is TiVo also casting an eye in the direction of over-the-top (OTT) streaming a la Roku? Signs point to yes: a recently spotted FCC (News - Alert) filing for a device called QPlay suggests that a release may be closer to hand than some might have foreseen. QPlay will offer access to Netflix and Hulu and others, but also has its own specific app that sounds similar to Spotify for music, which allows users to make playlists of videos and route said playlists accordingly, even to the point where users can browse other users' playlists and rate said playlists as desired.

Also biggish news: after years of grumbling from, well, pretty much everyone that owns a Roku box, YouTube is finally making its debut on the platform. But, the release will still be limited. Only Roku 3 boxes will have it. The rationale is fuzzy, but our writer examines the clues as to why the limited access.

And finally, Facebook (News - Alert) may have some plans afoot in terms of making some inroads with video-based advertising plans, at least if the story told by a leaked deck showing how to sell said advertising bears out. The 32-page deck offers some interesting advice in terms of how to pitch ads, as well as just how said ads stack up against competing media. If this deck bears out, then television and YouTube alike have some cause for concern.

Enjoy perusing the news, and have a great weekend and holiday season!

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