Charter Likes Having Control Of The UI

Comcast has plowed a lot of resources in the X1 platform, the basis of its IP-fed cloud-based user interface and the predecessor to the “X2,” an upgrade that will provide a common look and feel across set-tops, PCs, and mobile devices, introduce more personalized elements, and pave the way for other network-based services, including a DVR.

So it makes sense that the operator would look for ways to get a return on that investment beyond its own video footprint and find new adopters of a system that was born out of the Reference Design Kit, a pre-integrated software bundle for IP-capable gateways and set-tops that’s being co-managed by Comcast and Time Warner Cable. As Comcast chairman and CEO Brian Roberts first told Multichannel News this fall in our Operator of the Year cover story (subscription required), the operator is now looking for ways to license X1 to other operators. 

With Comcast talking about those licensing plans more openly now, the question naturally came up Tuesday during Charter’s third quarter earnings call. Charter is getting ready to test a cloud-based interface that can run on IP- and MPEG-capable boxes, starting in Fort Worth. According to people familiar with it, the internal designation is the “Sky UI,” and it’s being built as a hybrid whereby many of its functions are resident in the cloud, while some “lifeline” capabilities will stay resident in the set-top box. The idea being that if the cloud goes down, at least the box will still be capable of providing some baseline navigation/guide functions.

So, Charter’s already heavily invested in its own approach. But Charter CEO Tom Rutledge didn’t swat away the question about his company's interest in licensing X1.

“With regard to the guide, yes, we’d be interested in licensing it,” he said, offering some kudos to Comcast’s handiwork and adding that Charter currently licenses intellectual property from other companies for programming guides. “We’ve looked at Comcast’s X1 guide, which we think is a really nice user interface and adds a lot of value to their product.”

But there’s nothing in the hopper with respect to a IP deal, as Rutledge explained that Charter has not held any X1 licensing discussions with Comcast. Plus, Charter, at this point, prefers to control its own destiny when it comes to building and presenting its new generation of video products.  

“I do think that guides are ultimately an aesthetic kind of question, meaning that the platform is one thing; how they look and how they feel is another,” Rutledge said. “It’s nice to have that …in your own control rather than having to deal with third parties. There’s a value to licensing someone’s work, particularly if you can change it at will.”