Videonet has been publishing an ongoing series of articles by David Price and myself. We concluded our previous article, ‘Thoughts on mitigating data caps’, with a challenge: how can Pay TV operators retain video subscribers when broadband is the only strong card in their hand?
At the same time, how can operators prevent a future that paints them in as just a dumb pipe? Our latest article attempts to answer question in two words: Artificial Intelligence.
We look at AI applied to three areas… See the remainder of this article on V-Net!
Videonet 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…
- Steve Hawley
The 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!
Putting 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?
At 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…
The 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.
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.
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
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).
Apple announced a new MacBook computer this week, during a press event that also provided the release date and pricing details for the upcoming Apple Watch. Everyone seemed to agree that the MacBook is a beautiful thing.
But why this machine?
I wish I could be more delicate, but the MacBook impresses me as being a totally unnecessary product. It might be a good ‘casual user’ machine: sufficient for accessing the Web, watching (cat) videos and for short emails perhaps? But so is the iPad. It might be a good “Office” machine: good for making presentations, writing, working on budgets. But so is the MacBook Air, which is less expensive and much more powerful. Instead, Apple seems to have aimed it at the less expensive Chromebook Pixel.
This was a major lost opportunity for Apple. It could have been the one form-factor that Apple is missing – the one that would have addressed the three things that the Microsoft Surface has over the iPad. The MacBook could have had a full computer operating system (as opposed to iOS), the ability to remove the keyboard portion so it could function as a tablet, and a port for file transfer and peripherals. These could have made the MacBook an instant hit. Instead, it has a mobile processor and people are already complaining about the keyboard.
I also immediately imagined a folder-like leather cover that would go behind the screen portion and under the keyboard portion. With the screen removed, the part of the cover that went behind the screen would simply fold down over the keyboard to protect it.
My first impression of the Apple Watch is that its not something that was designed for the ages. Luxury watches are designed as heirlooms and have century-long life expectancies, not 18-months.
Apple could still pull off a coup for $10,000-to-$17,000 Apple Watch Edition buyers if its Applecare extended warranty were to consist of replacing the electronics every couple of years. That would also reinforce the notion of Apple as a luxury brand. Or, instead of doing it under Applecare, just do it for free. The electronics probably cost less than $100 under mass production – the BOM (bill of materials) cost is probably much lower than a smartphone. iPhone 5S’ BOM was $199. It would be a pretty small percentage of the price.
But are they jewelry?
If Apple intended the new MacBook to be “jewelry,” it’s too big for a lady to carry in her pocketbook. And as for the Apple Watch. I imagine that it will sell, but not in Version 1.0. Too big. One of the appeals of the FitBit is its size and light weight. Once Apple manages to skinny down the electronics, then yes maybe.
As counter intuitive as it may seem, the emerging range of online video services might give pay TV subscribers little incentive to cut the cord, reunite existing cord-cutters back with pay TV, and even start driving would-be cord-nevers to adopt pay TV.
The conventional wisdom about OTT has been that the cost of online TV would be much lower than for traditional pay TV. Along comes DISH Network’s Sling TV, which only seems to reinforce that point. Comparing Sling TV’s $20/month with the typical entry-level pay TV package at $40/month – excluding monthly service and equipment fees – seems to bear that out.
Or does it?
A reality-check against the conventional wisdom
For the first time, there are enough actual online TV services that it’s becoming possible to make an objective comparison. So, let’s compare:
Basic Pay TV (for about $40 per month)
- Broadcast networks: CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox
- Networks found on pay TV: AMC Networks, CBS, Discovery Communications, The Walt Disney Company, Netwarko Grupo (Latino), Scripps Networks, Time Warner, Viacom and others
Online TV (…for about $40 per month!)
- DISH Sling TV ($20/month): AMC Networks, Disney/ABC, Netwarko Grupo, Scripps Networks, Time Warner
- Sony Playstation Vue (TBD, but let’s say $20/month): CBS, Discovery, Fox, NBC Universal, Scripps, Time Warner, Viacom
- Broadcast networks (live linear): Sony will offer CBS and Fox linear feeds in selected local markets.
- Or in place of Sony, you can opt for a combination of CBS All Access (which offers CBS linear feeds) plus HBO’s upcoming direct-to-consumer online TV service; probably for about the same $20/mo.
You might have noticed that Sling TV’s programming and Sony’s are almost mutually exclusive. They have only Scripps and Time Warner in common. So, an online-only subscriber who wants to come at all close to replicating a traditional MVPD’s line-up would need both DISH and Sony.
Is price the right metric for comparison?
My comparison make it look as if there’s price parity between online and pay TV, but this is not a truly fair comparison. Pay TV’s $40/mo for pay TV excludes monthly equipment rental and service fees; which bring it to about $60-70/month. Not to mention what the price might rise to after the new-subscriber promotional period wears off.
Okay: $60-$70/mo for pay TV, versus $40/mo for online. But unless the online subscriber abandons their Netflix, Hulu and/or Amazon Instant Video (or Prime) accounts – and many online subscribers take two or even all three of those, at about $10 each per month, plus or minus – the price comparison again comes closer to parity. (And let’s also acknowledge that $60-$70 price points are a lot higher than many of us envisioned…)
Both may taste great, but one may be less filling
Purely on the basis of the number of available channels, pay TV wins. Compare the lineups and prices from Comcast, AT&T U-verse and DISH Network (not SlingTV) with those from SlingTV and Sony Playstation Vue. Add all of the local and independent channels, and live local sports programming that you don’t get online.
One might protest that you can fill the local sports gap with online programming from professional sports leagues. But MLB.TV blocks programming for local games, in order to drive people back to local broadcast or pay TV. This may change, but for now, that’s the way it is. Plus, my local MLB games are included with my pay TV subscription, but MLB.TV starts at $19.95 per month. Yikes!
This situation makes me wonder: was it the plan all along to drive people back to pay TV? In the end, there may be very little incentive for pay TV subscribers to cut the cord, and very little reason for cord-nevers not to ultimately adopt the pay TV cord. DISH Network, for one, might be quite pleased with such a turn of events – and maybe this was DISH’s objective all along.
It comes down to priorities. Would you be satisfied enough with the limited lineups of online TV, and okay with filling the gaps with services from individual networks? Many people are. Many people are not.
Is TV having a dialectical moment?
In the discipline of philosophy, there is a method of resolving disagreements, called the dialectic process, which consists of a thesis, an antithesis, and a synthesis. Here, the thesis has been that OTT would drive people from pay TV. The antithesis has been the empire striking back, that pay TV would have sufficient value stem cord-cutting.
But this also can take an entirely different direction. The synthesis might be the emergence of the “hybrid subscriber,” in which one might take pay TV for local news and live sports, plus whatever else they get with the lowest cost basic subscription, and then get his or her premium content online from Hulu and perhaps HBO. In any of these scenarios, the alternatives might add up pretty close: a cord-never might end up paying the same as a pay TV subscriber would pay.