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Cable Technology Feature Article

February 15, 2014

Cable Technology Week in Review

By Tara Seals, TMCnet Contributor

Big doings in the cable MSO space this week, with the bombshell that Comcast has agreed to buy Time Warner (News - Alert) Cable for $158.82 per share, valuing the deal at about $45 billion. The acquisition, if approved by regulators, will merge the two largest cable MSOs in the country, creating the world’s largest broadband and pay-TV company, with about 30 million customers after Comcast divests about 3 million subscribers in the process. That’s one-third of the households in the United States.

Is the move good for consumers? Comcast, naturally, says “yes of course!”—citing the lack of market overlap between the two cablecos and the gaining of additional scale to fund broadband rollouts for the underserved and more R&D for technology innovation. Watchdog groups though say the deal consolidates too much power into one entity, creating a “bully in the schoolyard” when it comes to dictating on jobs and wages, pricing, technology investment, content terms and pretty much everything else. And, considering that it already owns NBCUniversal, some say that a tie-up with TWC only exacerbates its ability to control the marketplace. As Free Press said: “Don’t forget, Comcast already owns NBC, MSNBC, Universal Studios and tons of cable channels. That means that for most of America, Comcast could control even more of what you see and how you see it.”

Also big news this week was multiscreen technology investment. Entropic (News - Alert) has launched the Open RDK platform for middleware, formulated to standardize software implementations across different hardware platforms and set-top devices. The idea is to quicken the product deployment and time to market for new set-top boxes and also improve the consumer TV experience, giving new capabilities to enjoy TV programming, search and discover content, connect to cloud and Web-based information and manage their accounts.

It leverages the OpenEmbedded core technology for creating the guidelines for open source components, together with the Yocto Project build environment. Also operators would also get to use a common build-flow which avoids multiple integration steps between silicon vendors.

 “This is the first time in the history of set-top box middleware solutions where standard open-source components and processes are used to minimize the software diversity for application developers,” said Roger Gregory, vice president of marketing at Entropic. “Our RDK-focused SoC solution is fully open, leading to full software stack portability across different hardware configurations from low-cost set-top boxes, hybrid set-top boxes and DVRs to IP-Client and gateway products.”

Others are working on their own approaches for kickstarting next-generation pay-TV. Hot on the heels of agreeing to buy over-the-top (OTT) and multiscreen specialist Azuki Systems, Ericsson (News - Alert) announced its intention to take TV to the cloud. The gearmaker said that it is building an end-to-end integrated platform for pay-TV service providers that will be offered in a software-as-a-service model, based entirely on Web and cloud technologies. The aptly named “Future TV Anywhere platform” will foment a common video delivery model across the device and network ecosystem to better meet consumer thirst for multiscreen services, it said. Ericsson believes that by 2020 there will be at least 50 billion connected devices, 15 billion of which will offer video to users, making for a potentially hellish fragmentation scenario where different kinds of content from different providers will only work optimally on specific devices. But using standard Web protocols for content handling can give operators the ability to better innovate and drive efficiency, just as we’ve seen in the Web economy at large.

The moves are savvy ones: New research has revealed that pay-TV operators' investment plans for multiscreen video services and delivering live and file-based video content to subscribers with multiple devices are continuing to ramp up, as digital distribution moves into a role as basic competitive table stakes. Value-added services like second screen apps and enhanced DVR capabilities have gained in popularity due to the convergence happening in the living room between smartphones, tablets and connected TVs, according to Infonetics (News - Alert) Research, and most pay-TV providers know it. For instance, the tablet has become the de facto second screen: 47 percent of operators surveyed by Infonetics support tablets as part of their multiscreen service now, and that’s expected to grow to 89 percent by 2015.

All of that multiscreen content is going to have to be managed and monetized. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Kaltura, which runs an open-source video streaming and editing platform project, has secured an additional $47 million of funding, which it will use to fuel an ambitious international expansion. The Israeli startup already has a presence in New York, but it said that it plans to extend operations into Brazil, Mexico, China, Japan, Australia, Singapore and Korea. The proposition for its platform is the fact that customers can host, publicize, manage, monetize and analyze all video content. Customers fall into three main buckets: publishing, education and enterprise, and some are heavy hitters, like HBO, Wikipedia, Intel, Nestle, and Phillips, as well as Harvard, Yale and Stanford Universities.

“The rapid adoption of our technology around the globe is a testament to the central role that video plays in every facet of our connected lives,” said Ron Yekutiel, Kaltura chairman and CEO. “We are proud to enable and streamline the creation of hundreds of video-enabled applications and workflows, and to assist hundreds of millions of people to improve the way they work, learn, collaborate and entertain using video.”

The rest of the week’s news is a grab-bag of topics. For one, NullCrew, the hacktivist collective, is back in action with back-to-back hacks of Bell Canada and Comcast. It first carried out what it says was an SQL injection attack against telco Bell Canada on Feb. 1, accessing account login and password details for more than 22,000 small business customers of Bell's Internet service. They said they contacted Bell customer support two weeks before disclosing the information but that the issue was never escalated to where it could be investigated and handled properly. A few days later, NullCrew exploited an unpatched security vulnerability, CVE-2013-7091, to gain access to usernames, passwords and other sensitive details from Comcast's servers. It said that 34 Comcast mail servers are victims of the vulnerability found in Zimbra, the groupware used by the No. 1 cable MSO. The flaw, which allows local file inclusion and thus compromise, was actually disclosed in December 2013, indicating that Comcast was negligent in

In do-gooder news, Cox Communications has expanded its green Cox Conserves program. The company’s national sustainability program was until recently focused on carbon reduction, and as per the new expansion goals, water conservation and waste reduction will be added to it. The expanded goals of the Cox Conserves program will focus on sending zero waste to landfill in the next seven to 10 years; and becoming carbon and water neutral in the next 25 to 30 years. Cox’s two water conservation centers contribute towards annual savings of 32 million gallons of water. Cox Conserves was launched in 2007, and since then the program has already achieved 26 alternative energy installations, hundreds of energy conservation projects across the country, and prevented annually over 41,000 tons of carbon emissions from entering the environment.

On the over-the-top front, more evidence that Apple is prepping a refresh of the Apple TV device has surfaced. A reference inside of an Apple TV framework related to the device’s AirPlay functionality indicates that the new Apple TV model will be part of the existing Apple TV product family, instead of the fabled HDTV or multifunction set-top/home gateway that some have speculated that Apple would release. But, it’s likely that the device will see notable changes in terms of internal components. Apple

is reportedly mulling some different technology reboots for the device, including the integration of AirPort Express into Apple TV and its own 802.11ac wireless router. Apple is also reportedly testing a version that has a built-in TV tuner component.

And finally, turning to gaming, Twitch, a site that was launched in 2011 to give gamers a platform for live-streaming their online video game play, now has 1 million monthly broadcasters on the service, the company said. And in case you ever doubted the popularity of World of Warcraft, Minecraft and other online juggernauts, Twitch racks up 45 million viewers each month, who spend an average of 106 minutes per session on Twitch watching other people play games each day. According to DeepField, Twitch ranks No. 4 for generating peak Internet traffic, after Netflix, Google (News - Alert)/YouTube and Apple. PlayStation 4 has had a big impact on the site ever since the console debuted in November, thanks to a built-in Twitch-streaming integration. A staggering 200,000 gamers, 20 percent of Twitch’s content generators, have come to the platform through the PS4.

To check out more details on all of this and more, visit our homepage. And have a great weekend!

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