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?
Our 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.
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…
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.
It’s an easy trap to fall into: to be so distracted by goings-on in what have traditionally been the world’s largest pay TV and online video markets that we miss what’s going on in the rest of the world.
Case in point is India. Five to ten years ago, it was easy to dismiss India as a yet-to-emerge market for pay TV. There was a vague assumption that IP video might succeed over mobile, but not anytime soon. And because per-subscriber revenue is so low, the conventional wisdom among infrastructure providers was that India wasn’t particularly worth their attention anyway.
Fast forward to the present day: India’s TV and online video industries are super-active, white-hot. Last summer, Hong Kong-based Media Partners Asia estimated that pay TV in India would grow at a 11% per year through 2018, driven by rising ARPU.
Just during the first calendar quarter of 2015 alone:
- India’s Ministry of Information and Broadcasting issued operating licenses to 11 TV operators between November 2014 and January 2015, and then another 11 between January and early March. In that short period, it represents about 15 percent of the total number of operators in the country (153 total, as of March 10)
- Operators are adding new TV channels at a rapid pace. Tata Sky announced that its move to MPEG-4 is making room for 20 new channels. The same operator launched 4K set-top boxes early in 2015.
- Outside media companies see India as a new market opportunity for their programming. Turner announced the launch of its Toonami channel with five operators in February. Online video provider Hungama.com is adding Disney and Marvel content.
- New online video providers are also coming on the scene. Viral Fever launched on online movie service, while Culture Machine, which distributes content over YouTube, raised US18M to fund its network of 400 India-based media brands and independent content providers.
- Graphic India raised about U$3M from the Asian investment arm of Chernin Media, which is also noteworthy because Chernin has a content partnership with AT&T (my guess is that this could help fuel a future AT&T ‘International’ content offering in the US).
- New operators and broadcasters are also raising money: One operator, Ortel Communications, raised INR1.75B (about US$28M) in March. India-based Zee Media is offering 108M shares in its IPO, and is launching its &TV service in the UK in combination with the trivia app QuizUP on April 6.
- New video advertising networks are coming on the scene, with launches by Komli Media and Seventynine, which offers an in-app advertising platform and advertising SDK for mobile video.
And of course, infrastructure providers are striking while the iron is hot:
- Verimatrix announced a video security win with Vuclip, a mobile VOD service available in India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East
- Ericsson, Cisco, and Elemental Technologies all announced operator wins for their 4K-capable video encoding platforms
- Cisco also announced a win for its Videoscape multiscreen service delivery platform, with DTT operator Videocon 2dh.
- Companies like Micromax are introducing Android-based 4K/UHD TVs in India, although consumer uptake for 4K in India is likely to be sluggish.
- Amagi is winning deals with video content providers for its Cloudport cloud-based online video system
- Technicolor is considering making video technology acquisitions in the country.
- Home-grown infrastructure providers are emerging. New Delhi-based Chrome Data has announced an anti-piracy service to fight cable signal theft. Multivert India has partnered with Video Propulsion to offer low-cost headend equipment.
In short, the entire video industry ecosystem is thriving there.
If nothing else, this situation has prompted me adjust my perception as to which pay TV market might be the biggest one right now. If not from a revenue perspective, then at least in terms of opportunity and potential.
This article owes a major tip of the hat to NexTV India.
Every decade has seen generational advances in technology. The 1980s were the decade of enterprise communications and the local area network. The World Wide Web became a consumer phenomenon during the 1990s. In the 2000s, it was IPTV, which has led to today’s multiscreen delivery. Each of these saw a greater number of enabling technologies and stakeholders in the mix than the one before. Now it appears that we’re in the decade of the Connected Car, and if you’ll excuse the term, there is a convergence across more technologies and stakeholders this time than ever.
For communications service providers, the Connected Car breaks down into three broad areas of opportunity. The first is ‘connected infotainment,’ which is access to consumer-facing content and entertainment services using 3G or 4G broadband radio access. In addition to music in the front seat and video in the back seat for the kids, other features that fall within this category include location-oriented services, with content and traffic data used for mapping, route-finding, search and recommendation for points of interest, and to know weather conditions at a destination. Then there’s device presence, which can help drivers locate family members and help others see whether a person (or vehicle) is available over the network, or not. Some vehicles embed applications that enable the user to see a paired mobile phone’s directory and call logs on the in-dash display, and access dialing, messaging and email by voice command, turning the car into another device on the family’s mobile plan.
The second area is telematics, which represents the communications interface between the vehicle and services from outside world. These can be consumer-facing services and content as above, to report and track a stolen vehicle, or report conditions to the manufacturer or other business stakeholders. This can be vehicle-centric service content, for roadside assistance, concierge services, emergency calling, or the conveyance of vehicle status content for remote diagnostics. Enterprise applications include vehicle monitoring for fleet management, monitoring of vehicle speed to provide proof that the driver qualifies for safe driver insurance. It can also be software updates, for consumer-facing apps or for the vehicle itself.
The third area is founded upon the relationships between a vehicle and its surroundings. Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications will enable another broad range of applications. Although this is a much longer-range opportunity than the ones above, efforts are already underway by governments, regulators and technology suppliers to enable intelligent metropolitan transportation systems, to help coordinate traffic based on traffic density, traffic signals and environmental conditions; and even enable toll payment collection.
Another communication-related area is driver assistance, which, for now, is largely confined to the vehicle. Cameras, ultrasonic, or radar sensors mounted on or within the car become the sensory system of the car. Applications include the adaptation of speed to traffic, parking assistance, collision avoidance, lane departure warnings, blind-spot detection, and autonomous driving. Many car makers are in the process of developing and introducing assisted driving use-cases in production vehicles. Autonomous vehicles will need outside connectivity for telematics, V2V, and V2I applications.
Now let’s compare the convergence of TV with the Connected Car. While TVs and connected vehicles must both line up an ecosystem that consists of connectivity, content delivery, a consumer device, a user experience, applications, user management, and security, the Connected Car is a much more purpose-driven and situationally sensitive environment, with little room for error.
While the TV delivery ecosystem is complicated, TV is a relatively forgiving pastime. Sure, we can get annoyed when a TV channel macroblocks just as a home run ball sails over the fence; or just as the winning goal is made deep into stoppage time (and isn’t that what the instant replay is all about?). But the TV experience has no equivalent to avoiding a collision or having to dismiss an incoming phone call while in a stressful driving situation. Those aren’t just annoying, they can be life-threatening.
The moral of this story is that the Connected Car is one of the next great opportunities for mobile communications providers. It’s both a target-rich and highly challenging environment. Quality of service, efficient software and effective integration will be key considerations. Continuity of experience will be of the utmost importance, as the vehicle moves from one location to another and then another, to ensure that content delivery is accurate and uninterrupted – especially when the data is mission critical.
Aereo, the Barry Diller startup that was delivering local over-the-air TV programming to online and mobile app users, has been deemed illegal by the United States Supreme Court. The Court’s majority opinion was that Aereo is similar to cable TV, and is therefore subject to the same copyright obligations. We should have seen it coming: Chief Justice John Roberts had earlier said that Aereo’s entire model was to circumvent copyright law.
- TV broadcast networks
- Local TV stations owned and operated by the TV broadcast networks
- Local independent broadcast stations
- Consumers, who now lose the option to access local programming online unless they subscribe to an operator, or receive programming over the air
- Aereo, which would have to pay retransmission fees and presumably pass the cost on to consumers, be shut down, or devise some other work-around that keeps it in service
Aereo rents dedicated over-the-air TV antennas to each end user, and converts the live TV signal from each antenna to IP video for unicast (which, Aereo argued, constitutes ‘private performance’ that is not subject to copyright rules). Aereo also hosts a cloud-DVR service that stores recorded programming for later unicast access by subscribers.
If Aereo had won this case, the power of content owner to charge retransmission fees would have diminished, reducing pressure on operators to raise prices to the consumer. Aereo would have continued its expansion toward national coverage. With this decision, retransmission fees are likely to increase, supplementing existing revenue streams from TV advertising.
Aereo’s loss also opens the door for Dyle.tv, a joint venture of NBC, Fox, Pearl Mobile DTV and Ion; which currently offers over-the-air receivers to mobile device owners. Dyle’s Web site states that the company intends to offer “…encrypted broadcasts … to authenticated MVPD (pay TV) subscribers through a variety of apps, possibly those developed by TV networks, stations or cable/satellite companies.”
Online TV certainly isn’t going away. Earlier this month, Leightman Research Group said that almost half of U.S. households already subscribe to an online premium video service, such as Hulu, Netflix or Amazon Prime. The TV networks simply want to boost revenue by participating in the same opportunity. Adding to what they already make from advertising.
Also, the range of available TV programming continues to expand on all the major streaming video device platforms. No question that the content world sees online video as a viable channel of distribution. It just has to be on its terms, and subject to copyright law (agree or not about the Aereo decision).