Posts By: Steven Hawley

Thoughts on Mitigating Data Caps

Posted by & filed under Analysis, Blog, Devices, DISH, Hybrid, Opinion, Technology, tvstrategies, Videonet.

vnetlogo2018Videonet has published the latest blog entry by David Price and myself

Our story so far: After beginning an experiment in cord-cutting, David received a rude awakening from his pay TV provider. This got us thinking about how to get around broadband data caps. Two approaches occurred to us right away.

The first is to make better use of available bandwidth by using improved codecs. The second is to postpone data cap charges with a hybrid broadcast solution. Both have their advantages and challenges…

Click for the rest of this story, on Videonet

Enjoy!

Best regards,
- Steve Hawley

Just how easy is it to cut the cord?

Posted by & filed under Analysis, Blog, News, OTT, tvstrategies, Videonet.

vnetlogo2018The first article of a new blog has been published by Videonet, co-authored by David Price and myself.   David is a well-known and highly respected executive in the TV technology industry and is now the head of Scala Advisors.  Videonet is one of the go-to resources in the connected TV industry. I’ve been a judge for The Connies – previously known as Videonet’s Connected TV Awards – for a number of years.  It’s a privilege to be associated with all of them!

Now, to our story…   After joining an over-the-top video service, David decided to have a try at discontinuing his pay TV provider’s video service. Soon he was in for a rude awakening… (Continued at Videonet)

We’ll have new articles regularly, on a variety of topics.  Stay Tuned!

ARRIS folds into CommScope

Posted by & filed under Analysis, ARRIS, Blog, CommScope, Competition, Motorola, Operators, tvstrategies, Vendors.

CommScope+ARRISPutting an end to recent rumors, CommScope and ARRIS have announced that the former will be acquiring the latter, with the deal to close in early 2019.  Both companies built themselves through a combination of internal developments and by making acquisitions; ARRIS with Pace, C-COR, Ruckus, a big piece of Motorola, Digeo, and others. While CommScope has not been particularly on the pay TV industry’s radar, the two companies appear to be a good fit for one another.  As network suppliers, the solutions that they provide to the markets that they target are complementary to one another, which CommScope illustrates in their merger presentation of November 8 (see page 14).

So what about pay TV?  Because of their solutions synergies, the two companies should be able to open new business opportunities for one another.  ARRIS might see new opportunities in enterprises and private properties where CommScope offers fiber and LAN connectivity solutions and ARRIS adds TV CPE and Ruckus WiFi access.  Similarly, CommScope could complement ARRIS (and former C-COR) solutions in operator accounts by adding fiber and copper connectivity and outside plant equipment. But the fact that this happened at all was intriguing to me: that ARRIS would build this formidable and comprehensive lineup of solutions – end-to-end, really – and then fold their hand.

You can argue that MediaKind (Ericsson’s to-be-completed-as-of-this-writing joint venture with One Media Partners) and Synamedia (Cisco’s recently consummated joint venture with Permira) have done the same thing, by spinning out “sub-optimally-performing” TV businesses into joint ventures.  But while both Synamedia and MediaKind went out of their way to tell of their respective visions for the future at IBC in September, I didn’t get the same emotional connection from ARRIS.

But upon further reflection, it seems that ARRIS has been pulling back for some time.  If you click down into individual units of ARRIS, I believe there have been some missed opportunities to stake out a leadership claim.

One could argue that ARRIS has been out there plugging away for Set-top Boxes, and devising new use-cases to keep the category alive.  At IBC, I spent an hour with a senior ARRIS executive, and much of our conversation was about was about how screens are canvases.  A valid and correct world-view, but a bit surprising since ARRIS discontinued the TV middleware and service delivery platform portions of the Elements software line after acquiring Pace.  Not to mention the former Motorola Medios platform.

 For another, their TV Security unit has three CAS (SecureMedia’s, and Latens/Pace’s – which overlap – plus Motorola’s/DigiCipher for cable and satellite), a DRM (SecureMedia’s), and a PKI service (Motorola’s).  This gives ARRIS a comprehensive product-set and a strong set of technologies – but one in need of modernization.  With the emergence of anti-piracy as a new market opportunity for video security (and one that all the security vendors are chasing, as opportunities for CAS and DRM flatten and dwindle), ARRIS has been silent – though it is entirely possible that it exists but simply hasn’t been announced.

There are opportunities, should the new company choose to pursue them.  Outside of the Tier-1 operator category that ARRIS calls home, companies like Amino, MobiTV, Nordija, Minerva Networks and of course TiVo, are pursuing “infrastructure modernization” and “cap-and-grow” opportunities with Tier-2 and larger Tier-3 operators, and surely they wouldn’t be doing so unless they saw opportunities there.  But because ARRIS sold Digeo/Moxi to Espial last year (now branded as Elevate Cloud), ARRIS had already pulled one foot out of that water.  Ironic because platforms “-as-a-Service” have attracted such strong interest.

Other questions remain.  For example, what about the ARRIS portion of the joint venture with ActiveVideo and Charter?   What role, if any, will majority-owner-to-be Carlisle Group take?

CenturyLink Part 2: Who’s minding the store?

Posted by & filed under CenturyLink, Comcast, Competition, Operators, tvstrategies.

CenturylinkOur story so far…  We moved our office at the end of May, but our communications services were not established until mid-June.

At about 9am on June 14 – our re-scheduled installation date – I called CenturyLink to confirm the technician’s arrival time.  “Between 10am and 12 noon,” I was assured.  When I called again at about 3pm, they confirmed that a technician had in fact been dispatched.  A few minutes later, the CenturyLink truck pulled up and I intercepted the technician as he was inspecting the side of the building.  Expressing frustration with the state of the outside wiring, he said that the first installer and one of his colleagues had both taken early retirement, leaving just two installers for our area.

At that moment, a second CenturyLink truck pulled up, and as the two technicians conferred, I overheard that neither of them knew that the other one was coming, and that neither of them had the hardware they needed to complete my installation.  Undaunted, the first technician dismissed the second one and sheepishly asked whether I would be here the next morning (Yes!), and then asked me to lead him to the indoor telecom patch panel was so he could complete his pre-installation inspection.

Here’s where I reveal a guilty secret: prior to my move, and before I found out that I had been calling the “wrong” CenturyLink office to schedule install my new service, I placed a $100 deposit with CableCo to install phone and broadband service.

When the CableCo technician visited during the last week of May to pre-inspect my facilities, I showed him the access panels to both the outdoor and indoor wiring.  Equipped with the knowledge he needed and making no further comments, he left.  But when the “right” CenturyLink office was revealed to me, my sense of loyalty to the Telco industry led me to cancel CableCo’s installation and ask for my deposit back. I was beginning to regret that decision.

As the CenturyLink installer proceeded inside to complete his inspection, I asked whether he would mind whether I followed along to watch what he was doing – explaining to him that I was in the telecom industry and knowledgeable about the Mediaroom platform that CenturyLink uses for TV.  Realizing that he was talking to a friend (sorta…), lots of revealing conversation ensued.

As he removed the cover to expose the indoor wiring patch panel, we saw that there was none – just a mass of wires.  As he organized the wires into three pairs, he informed me not to expect an upgrade path to CenturyLink’s (advertised) 100mbps service.   Having settled for 3mbps VDSL service in my previous office, I was ecstatic at the prospect of having 20mbps service at the new one.  But then again, what if I did want to upgrade to 100mbps later?

To get 100mbps service, we needed four pairs of conductors from the Calix switch providing our service.  The technician had seen this situation in our neighborhood before.  Apparently, despite an agreement with the builders of our development to equip every subscriber with four pairs of wiring, the contractors engaged by the builders installed only three.  To get to four-per-subscriber, new wiring would need to be installed for each subscriber, and capacities of the up-stream transport facilities would need to be re-evaluated, and possibly upgraded.

The agreement also apparently called for them to install patch panels, but as we saw, none were present.   Meanwhile, CenturyLink had equipped this area to handle hundreds of subscribers, but CenturyLink’s actual subscriber-count was only about two dozen, partly due to this situation.  Ceding the rest to CableCo (which doesn’t need four pairs to provide service).

To add insult to injury, the CenturyLink installers who had recently taken early retirement had been suspected of sabotaging new installations by stuffing small rocks into the wiring conduits alongside the buildings, so the wiring would not be accessible.  If true – and perhaps they were just disgruntled short-timers – it made me wonder who they were really working for.  Between possible sabotage, insufficient in-building wiring, and the lack of IT integration described earlier, the cards are stacked against any possibility that CenturyLink could do much better than it is doing.

It’s really a sad situation, and it would probably motivate the developer of this area to take some kind of legal action – if only they knew about it.   Even if I have some of the details not-quite-right, I’ve been thinking about informing the development’s management of this situation.  But how far would this information get within the developer’s organization, and will it motivate them to take action?  And if so, against whom? 

On Friday June 15, we had service.  But one of the primary reasons we opted for CenturyLink service was to have line-powered phones in the event of power outage.  Because CenturyLink has fiber-to-the-premises access here (not that I’m complaining), we could need a battery back-up to preserve service unless the nearest switch has its own.  If we do need one, hopefully the charge for it is minimal.

Also on Friday I received a $100 refund check for the deposit I had made in May with CableCo for the service that we canceled before it was installed.  I had forgotten.   

CenturyLink Part 1: They still don’t get IT

Posted by & filed under Blog, CenturyLink, Comcast, Operators, tvstrategies.

CenturylinkAt the end of May, tvstrategies moved its global headquarters, but our communications services were not to be active until mid-June.  It’s the second time that CenturyLink failed at provisioning our basic telephone and broadband services.  Our story…

Because we are in an area that occasionally loses electrical power, we need a land-line from the local telephone company.  People forget that the CableCo provides phone service using Voice over IP.   Which means that when you lose power, you lose your router, which in turn means you lose not only your broadband service but also your phone – which will be important when the Zombie Apocalypse strikes.

So before our move, rather than placing an order with CableCo, I called local incumbent Telco CenturyLink.  Strangely, they couldn’t find our new address, asked me to identify the township and section from county land records (!) and instructed us to contact CenturyLink in Florida, 2,700 miles away.

Figuring that there had to be a better way, we contacted the management of our new development which gave us the number for the CenturyLink office that manages the area surrounding tvstrategies‘ new digs.  They located us quickly and scheduled the installation for May 30th.

But why did this happen? Because although CenturyLink’s acquisition of Qwest Communications (previously US West, one of the seven regional operating companies that resulted from the 1984 break-up of the Bell System) was completed in 2011, the two companies had still not integrated their IT systems.

Since my old office was in former Qwest territory and the new one is in a territory that was once part of CenturyLink’s predecessor CenturyTel, it meant that CenturyLink had no way to coordinate the relocation of our services – which should have been a simple of entering a new address on an admin screen.  Instead, our new address was invisible to them, and therefore didn’t exist.

But there’s more. A CenturyLink installer came out on May 30, poked around for a few minutes and informed us that they had to do some digging.  Even though there is a FTTH pedestal on the property, literally 20 feet from the door.  So yes, CenturyLink does in fact serve the neighborhood (or, in Telco/Cable jargon, “the buildings are passed”), but even the responsible office can’t seem to see whether or not the individual buildings are actually connected without a site visit.

CableCo, on the other hand, also passes all these buildings – and knows where their lines are.  They are also good at incenting new subscribers with “triple play” service (TV, broadband access and telephone together).  To provide the TV portion of the triple play, CenturyLink offers AT&T’s DirecTV, since they are no longer promoting their own Mediaroom-based Prism TV service.

When I asked the CenturyLink installer how long it would be (“Days? Weeks? Months?), he said “probably a week – someone will get back to you.”  After he left, I saw that he had left the door open for the network interface box on the side of our building.  I rolled up the exposed wiring by hand, stuffed it onto the box, and closed the door.

After several days of no contact, I called CenturyLink in Gig Harbor again and was informed that our installation would happen on June 14.  I called them again on the Monday prior to installation to re-confirm, and was assured it was still on.

I’m glad I had the foresight to add cellular/LTE compatibility for my iPad – as a mobile hot spot, it serves to connect our computers and other sundry devices to the outside world. But the cellular signal is marginal here, and we sometimes lose the connection.

June 14th couldn’t come soon enough. Click for what happened next…

GDPR: Does it apply to TV technology vendors?

Posted by & filed under News.

Image source: https://www.gdpreu.org/links-to-official-resources-395/The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) goes into effect on May 24 (tomorrow, as I write this). You’ve probably received emails from your business partners, vendors, and companies that send email to you; asking you to opt in to emails that you already receive – and giving you the opportunity to ignore those which you no longer need.

The GDPR provides a regulatory framework to ensure the protection of personal data. But if you’re a technology provider to a company that proivdes consumer-facing video services to consumers in the European Union – one step removed from the consumer – do you need to care about GDPR on behalf of your service provider customers? The short answer is almost surely yes! (consult your corporate counsel)

The TV service delivery and security platforms that enable service providers and content providers to offer video services to consumers provide features that allow them to manage their end-users, and allow end-users to manage their own preferences for the services they take. These end users rely upon the provider to implement personal data preferences according to their desires, including the privacy of their personal data.

Consumer-facing entities will turn to their technology suppliers to help them comply with the GDPR. Suppliers outside the European Union that enable services to Europeans from the cloud are not exempt. According to Article 3, Recital 22, “Any processing of personal data in the context of the activities of an establishment of a controller or a processor in the Union should be carried out in accordance with this Regulation, regardless of whether the processing itself takes place within the Union…”

So a note to vendors and B-to-B service providers: if your platform manages privacy preferences for consumers in Europe and you haven’t paid attention to GDPR, the train leaves the station tomorrow! The penalties for non-compliance are very stiff: “For … especially severe violations … the fine framework can be up to 20 million euros, or in the case of a company, up to 4% of their total global turnover in the previous fiscal year, whichever is higher. But even the catalogue of less severe violations … sets forth fines of up to 10,000,000 euros, or, in the case of a company, up to 2% of its entire global turnover of the previous fiscal year, whichever is higher.”

It’s not something to lose customers over. Are you paying attention now?

Video Quality and Analytics: Two categories are really one

Posted by & filed under Blog, Multiscreen, Opinion, SNL Kagan.

Indian TV test pattern_rca_3The transition by broadcasters and pay TV operators from traditional services delivered to TV set-top boxes, to multiscreen distribution, seems to have created a two-headed beast with respect to video quality assurance.

On one hand, monitoring for MPEG delivery to STBs involves comparison of the source video before and after encoding, monitoring for data communications errors in transmission, and evaluation of the video after processing or delivery: characteristics like clarity, chroma, luma, A/V sync, the integrity of closed captions, plus things like channel-change latency and so on.

On the other hand, monitoring of adaptive bit-rate (ABR) streaming is more about determining buffering time, rebuffing and freezes, DRM errors, how often the stream changed video profiles adaptively, whether or not the viewer abandoned or completed the video – all of which are more transactionally-oriented. Of course, the data generated by this kind of monitoring is also useful to marketers (and not just to video and network engineers)

In reality, end users generally are not aware of the technologies that make their video experiences possible, nor should they care. Therefore, video providers must take an ecosystem approach that helps ensure the quality and continuity of the overall consumer experience, regardless of delivery or the nature of the end user device.

As it turned out, the first 4K content was distributed over adaptive streaming. But 4K, by definition, is high resolution, and to the end user, it doesn’t matter that the distribution was ABR.

So, in reality, the considerations inherent in the ‘two-headed beast’ of traditional and streaming video quality assurance are really one. The preservation of content integrity during transmission (QoS), the perceived quality at the consumer device (QoE), and whether or not the experience had continuity are equally important. And no matter how the video is delivered, monitoring gives video providers more tools to attract advertisers.

My Spring 2017 report for SNL Kagan, on Multiscreen Video Quality Assurance provides further details and analysis of this situation.

Apple 2016: What were they thinking?

Posted by & filed under Apple, Blog, Devices, News, Opinion, Smartphones, Steve Jobs, tvstrategies.

Although 2016 was generally a good year for technology, I do have a few bones to pick about Apple.  Hence, my first annual 2016 Apple ‘What were they thinking?’ blog post.

My “Baker’s” Top Ten list:

1) New MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar, which is the signature feature of the higher-end models. It’s dim and difficult to see, even under lesser indoor room illumination; and there’s no way to adjust its brightness manually.

2) New MacBook Pro: No real-world connectivity except for WiFi, BlueTooth and two or four USB-C ports.  Meaning that you need adapters for Ethernet, external display or projectors, and no SD memory card slot, which are useful (required) in Enterprise market,

3) New MacBook Pro: No Magsafe connector, so now, after a ten year hiatus, people can again bring their machines crashing to the floor when they trip over the power cord,

4) New MacBook Pro: Does not incorporate the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor.  People buy this machine for a 4-5 year lifecycle, and part of that is to buy the latest possible processor. The only reason I can think of, for why Apple opted for a previous-generation processor, was to boost 2016 revenue for the MacBook Pro line,

5) New MacBook Pro: No optical (CD/DVD-R) drive.  Even though these have been missing on the MacBook Pro for a few years, I’m not real happy about having to use an external DVD/CD drive to back up my machine onto physical media, which I still do every so often,

6) iPhone 7: No headphone jack, end of story.  Hope that Apple keeps the 6s around for a while longer,

7) iOS: Apple conditions users to use the button in the upper right to go “back” – except for voicemail, where the UI in that position is for changing your voicemail greeting,

8) iOS: Why does Apple insist on hiding elements of the UI that are useful, like the Search box and the ‘Back’ arrow in the browser?

9) iOS: Users have to shift to the alternate keyboard for the @, which is only the most used character on the Internet.  Really?

10) iOS: Apple ‘expires’ old versions of iOS too quickly, even when the new ones are known buggy.  Yes, you can download older OS versions, but as soon as the installer program pings Apple, the installation process is halted.

And just like a “Baker’s Dozen,” where you get 13 for the price of 12, here’s the rest of my Baker’s Ten:

11) Software stability:  iOS 10.2 broke several of my apps.  iOS 10.2 also apparently shuts down some iPhone models when the battery level reaches 30%.   iOS 9 was problematic too.

12) Technical support:  Neither an AppleCare phone support rep nor any of the Genius Bar staff in my local Apple store could confirm whether a Thunderbolt-to-Ethernet adapter could be used to connect and migrate my software and content from my old Mac to the new one – and told me to use WiFi.   I had to buy the Ethernet adapter and try – thankfully it worked fine.

I waited for a long time before buying a new MacBook Pro, hoping for better.  But given the first five items in my list, I went ahead and bought a 2015 model instead, which still has at least the first three.   The 2015 model is sufficient for my purposes, has fast solid state storage, the screen is beautiful, and it has the connectivity I need (with the exception of the optical drive)

After Steve Jobs returned to the company 20 years ago and Apple had its long series of successes with the iMac, iPod, and all the other iDevices, it hurts to think that the post-Jobs Apple has again lost its way.

Just as was the case pre-Jobs’ return, Apple again has many Mac models on the showroom floor, with little to differentiate many of them.  Who remembers the Mac Performa, Quadra, Centris, LC, Macintosh II, and Classic, which were all available at the same time. Bewildering.  Much like the current MacBook line-up.  Too many models, and many of them don’t quite fit.

Copyright Infringement: a public service message…

Posted by & filed under Blog, Content.

A letter recently arrived by postal mail, telling me that I had a copyrighted image on my Web site.  Many companies and individuals use images on Web sites that they find online.  Adding a caption that attributed the image to its source was not enough.

Today it was followed up by an email, below.  I write analysis about the use of watermarks and fingerprinting to detect the use of copyrighted content, which I imagine was used in my case; so this incident brought it all home!  Despite having taken the image down after receiving the initial letter, I still had to pay a license fee.

The moral of the story: Make sure you have clear rights (and license) before you use someone else’s content.  Come to think of it, I would expect the same if it were my content.

 


October 5, 2016

Via physical mail and email

Advanced Media Strategies LLC
P.O. Box: 717
Ravensdale, Washington 98051
United States

Unauthorized Use of (Name of the copyright holder) – Reference Number: XXX

(Our agency) provides copyright compliance services to third party content owners, including (the copyright holder). We recently sent you a notice that imagery represented by (copyright holder) was being used on your company’s website; however this matter remains unresolved.

According to (copyright holder’s) records, there is no valid license issued to your company for the use of that imagery.

Use of imagery managed by (this copyright holder) without a valid license is considered copyright infringement and entitles (copyright holder) to seek compensation for infringing uses (Copyright Act, Title 17, United States Code). The cost of settlement for past usage of the imagery on your company’s website is $xxx.

To Resolve This Matter – (Reference Number):

You are requested to take one of the following actions within 14 days of the date of this correspondence, as follows:

  • If your company possesses a valid license … (and) the matter will be closed.
  • If your company does not hold a valid license or other authorization for the use of the imagery, please remove the imagery referenced at the end of this correspondence and remit the settlement payment of $xxx.

Please be aware that removal of the imagery alone will not resolve this issue; we require payment of a settlement for past usage even after you have removed the image.

You may have been unaware that this imagery was subject to copyright. However, copyright infringement can occur regardless of knowledge or intent. Being unaware of license requirements does not change liability….”

(Further reference information followed, with a link to the offending image).

A big picture view of IBC 2016

Posted by & filed under News.

Cable & Satellite International asked me to contribute my thoughts after the 2016 IBC conference in Amsterdam.

The article is available online via CSI’s Web site.

The promises made by technological progress and the industry consolidation of recent years are finally coming to fruition.  Video delivery frameworks now can reside at the customer premises, in the public cloud, in a private cloud, or in a combination thereof. The major video security platforms can be software, hardware, or a combination. Because service delivery can be built around common management and video security platforms, multi-screen delivery challenges have largely been solved.  The remaining challenges revolve around implementing the video player, and video encoding in the cloud.

Two areas that I found to be very interesting, but still flying a bit under the radar for most operators, are video quality assurance and truly integrated video content security. Multi-screen service and adaptive streaming have had a huge impact on both of these.  Each requires an ecosystem approach and each of them benefits from having comprehensive management frameworks.

By the end of the week, this IBC showed that the vendor community is meeting challenges better than ever, to help operators meet consumer needs and better meet consumer expectations.