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?
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.
Today’s Net Neutrality declaration by the FCC is unquestionably the most important telecommunications policy decision thus far in the 21st century. In recent weeks, it had become increasingly clear that this would be the FCC’s direction.
There had been doubts, given FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s previous associations in the telecommunications industry. From 1976 to 1984, he was President of the NCTA and from 1992 to 2004, he was President & CEO of the CTIA, which lobby for the cable and cellular industries, respectively. Both groups oppose Net Neutrality today.
In addition to the Chairman, the FCC is governed by four other Commissioners. The FCC’s majority reflects the political party of the President, so therefore, Mr Wheeler and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel are Democrats. They voted ‘Aye.’ Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly are Republicans, and voted ‘No.’
Chairman Wheeler summarized the ruling in his statement
“We asked the public to weigh in, and they responded like never before. We heard from startups and world-leading tech companies. We heard from ISPs, large and small. We heard from public-interest groups and public-policy think tanks. We heard from Members of Congress, and, yes, the President. Most important, we heard from nearly 4 million Americans who overwhelmingly spoke up in favor of preserving a free and open Internet.
“Building on (a) strong legal foundation, the Open Internet Order will:
- Ban Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”
- Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
- Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
“These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.
“The Order also includes a general conduct rule that can be used to stop new and novel threats to the Internet.”
What the opposing Commissioners had to say
Those who watched the FCC proceedings online, as I did, were given a real treat. After Mr Wheeler’s opening statement, the Commissioners took turns to make statements of their own. Given today’s antagonistic political environment, the primary role of the two opposing Commissioners was to misrepresent the outcome and use scare tactic positioning as they expressed their disagreement with the decision. I must admit that they are very good at what they do.
For example, Commissioner Pai made several points in his statement:
- (Paraphrasing) “The Internet will be taxed.” And he went on to talk about the Universal Service fee *** on your phone bill, and how a new line item will show up on phone bills for the Internet. In reality, “the Order DOES NOT require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund under Section 254. The Order will not impose, suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees – there will be no automatic Universal Service fees applied and the congressional moratorium on Internet taxation applies to broadband.”
- “The Internet will be slower and prices will be higher.” Large carriers attempt to justify their claim about slower speeds by saying that Net Neutrality would be a disincentive for them to invest in their networks. So AT&T or Verizon would actually give Comcast or a future DISH Network wireless broadband service an opening to take market share away from them?
- “Nothing in this order will promote competition… If you liked Ma Bell monopoly in the 20th century, you’ll love this in the 21st.” Actually, today’s ruling is very clear (see above) that there will be no preferential treatment for access or interconnection. Creating a level playing field that anyone can enter; a sound foundation for competition.
*** It should be noted that the Universal Service fee helped give telephony to rural areas in the 1930s, and in a very real sense, helped incubate IPTV among rural operators a decade ago.
Commissioner Pai used words like “takeover,” “sham proposal,” and “special interests” to position the Net Neutrality decision exactly inside-out from what it really is. He also claimed that the government didn’t create the Internet, hoping that listeners may have forgotten that the Internet was ‘invented’ by DARPA (the Advanced Research Projects Agency within the US Department of Defense, a government agency), and a community of government-funded academic institutions.
The other opposing Commissioner, Mr. O’Reilly, also pulled no punches, calling the Net Neutrality decision an “unlawful power grab.” Then Mr O’Reilly went on about how Title II is all about price regulation and taxation. So the truth comes out: taxation is bad. Net Neutrality should be opposed because it is a new tax, and that “this is back door rate setting authority.” Despite explicit statements in the ruling that it is not.
But read the FCC’s order, read the statements of each of the FCC Commissioners, and then decide for yourself.
Fear ruled the weeks leading to this decision
These comments by the minority Commissioners simply reflected the meme that had been running unchecked in the wild.
In the days and weeks leading up to this FCC decision, the opposition played on anti-Obama sentiments with ridiculous propositions like “Barack Obama is shutting down the Internet,” and insulting statements that Tom Wheeler is “simply Obamas’s (colorful language for the word ‘tool’) on this.” US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) insisted “Net Neutrality is Obamacare for the Internet.”
One commenter went so far as to say that (I’m paraphrasing and can’t remember the source) ‘..only four million people submitted comments to the FCC, out of more than 300 million Americans,’ implying that the 4 million were meaningless.
What the Net Neutrality decision really means
Today’s ruling put an end to the notion that “open access” to the Internet was to be a function of lesser or greater means. It’s that simple.
I have no doubt that some of my friends and colleagues stand as opposed to Net Neutrality as I stand in favor. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But as opposing parties begin to notice that Net Neutrality has opened market opportunities to them that otherwise would not have been available, they will thank the FCC.
The other FCC decision on this day
The Net Neutrality discussion overshadowed another important ruling that was announced the same day: that the FCC granted petitions from two community broadband providers in North Carolina and Tennessee, to expand broadband services into neighboring unserved and underserved communities. The opposition was from incumbent service providers.
On March 31, the FCC declared that local TV broadcasters can no longer enter into joint advertising sales agreements (JSAs) in which one station sells 15% of advertising time (or more) for another station in the same area. Joint ad sales agreements are common: Comcast’s Spotlight subsidiary has had them with AT&T and Verizon, which of course are pay TV competitors – and these parties see opportunities to scale their advertising efforts at a lower overall cost by partnering.
The spirit of this new FCC JSA ruling is intended to promote localism and diversity, and keep individual media companies from controlling an inordinate amount of power in any given local market.
But buried about half-way into the JSA announcement was another more important announcement: that the FCC has initiated the 2014 Quadrennail Review of Media Ownership. Since the 1990s and particularly over the last decade, the percentage of broadcast and newspaper media markets served by any one company has been a contentious issue. As it stands now, no single company can own more than one TV station in a single market – or in the largest markets, no more than two; as long as one of them is not a top-four station.
But neither the new JSA ruling, nor the current set of media ownership rules, have much bite to them: they can be skirted through waivers. If the FCC really wanted to address what many perceive to be inordinate power among local media outlets, it could address the ownership limits that were proposed but never fully adopted from the 2010 review cycle, in the 2014 Media Ownership review cycle.
I hadn’t been active with my blog in a while, but I was so incensed at my poorly coordinated broadband activation by CenturyLink that I posted six articles in rapid succession, ending yesterday with my thoughts about competition.
So, from my own personal perspective, the announcement that Comcast would acquire Time Warner Cable struck me as ironic. Some of the early reports seemed to position this acquisition as a fait accompli, which it is not. Most news outlets, ranging from The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg to The PBS News Hour and National Public Radio, emphasized that the deal would take time, and face regulatory scrutiny. As a point of reference, Comcast’s acquisition of NBC Universal took two years to close.
One of my morning calls today (2/14) was with an industry friend in the UK, who asked “What do you think?” From a services perspective, Comcast and TWC serve mutually-exclusive territories, so competition among TV, voice, and broadband providers in any given locality is not likely to change significantly. And although this acqusition would make Comcast more powerful overall, a successful acquisition isn’t likely to reduce the number of voices in the American marketplace of ideas because Time Warner content is not part of the deal. The acquisition is likely to be approved, but I hope that certain conditions are applied.
The greatest potential for risk comes with broadband market share. A merged Comcast-TWC would serve nearly 30% of American households. With that kind of market presence, the results can be both good and bad. On the good side, a larger Comcast could conceivably negotiate lower costs from its programming suppliers because the new entity would be reaching the new and higher aggregate number of subscribers (although whether or not such a negotiation would be successful, and whether or not such a savings would then be reflected in the consumer’s bill are both open questions. I do know that my Comcast broadband-only bill was nearly $80/month before I moved out of their service territory this past month, which included ambiguously-defined surcharges).
On the other side of the coin, many fear that the company could quietly compromise the quality of over-the-top video services like Netflix with impunity, and ignore or rationalize their way past any challenges to such a practice. Comcast and others have been accused of this practice. (the corollary of that being that, maybe, Hulu would remain at full quality, since Comcast’s NBC Universal is a co-owner in Hulu). But that is an ill-informed point of view (** See below).
Just last month, we were reminded of this issue when D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals invalidated the Federal Communications Commission’s 2010 Open Internet Order, which Verizon Communications and others had challenged. A group of US Senators quickly sent a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who is evaluating that situation; urging him to “quickly adopt enforceable rules to prevent the blocking and discrimination of Internet traffic… (and) withstand judicial scrutiny.” Mr. Wheeler says that he will try. US Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) introduced a bill to keep Net Neutrality in effect until this evaluation is complete.
Internet advocates have differing opinions as to whether or not Net Neutrality will stand. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is pessimistic, while Freepress thinks the FCC can preserve it. I personally believe that Net Neutrality is as basic as universal telephone service or the availability of electricity, or law enforcement, or fire prevention: available to all, without bias.
One of the FCC’s conditions in the Comcast NBC Universal acquisition was for Comcast to maintain a practice not to discriminate against online video programmers, and to add ten independently-owned programming channels to its cable lineup over the 8 years following the acquistion. But what happens after 2018, when the non-discrimination period expires? Will Internet access speeds be intentionally limited for streams of IP video programming that originate outside of a Comcast headend? Will independent programmers find themselves shut out? Comcast has many friends in the US Congress, and contributed more than $853,000 to members of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in the US House of Representatives between 2001 and 2012.
If only just to quell the fears of the paranoid, I would propose that FCC Chairman Wheeler take two steps: first, make the non-discrimination clauses of the FCC’s conditions to Comcast from the NBC Universal acquisition permanent as a condition of a Comcast – Time Warner acquisition. Second, extend those conditions to all service providers. The FCC could reclassify broadband as a Common Carrier service, obligating Comcast and all other operators to carry any traffic on their networks or face legal action.
As remote as the FCC may seem to average mortals, anyone can submit comments to the FCC about this issue (and select “09-191 Preserving the Open Internet” from the drop-down menu). On the other hand, it’s best to keep emotions at a minimum: fear that the sky is falling is probably misplaced.
The above-linked Wall Street Journal article on the acquisition provides a detailed timeline of consolidation in the cable industry, and the Columbia Journalism Review maintains Who Owns What, to track the holdings of major media companies.
** Edited February 25: Netflix will in fact be paying Comcast to guarantee QoS/QoE over Comcast’s network. If the intent were to collude in order to raise prices to the consumer, it would be a terrible precedent and probably found to be illegal. But that fear is not grounded in realities of OTT delivery, because paying Comcast or any other access provider for transport on their networks is a common practice, and is more likely reduce the content providers’ transport costs, not raise them. Pay TV operators with broadband services have always positioned OTT video providers as freeloaders on their networks, but that positioning is disingenuous because paid transport at a wholesale level is a common practice and a revenue stream.
See Dan Rayburn’s recent posts for the best characterization that I’ve seen to date.