CableLabs Cuts 27 Staff Amid Restructuring

CableLabs, the industry’s Colorado-based R&D house, is reducing its workforce by at least 30 staffers amid a reorganization that will see the Colorado-based R&D house prioritize spending on longer-term “innovation projects” and “funding game-changing innovations.”

When contacted last week, CableLabs declined to confirm how many workers have been let go as part of the decision, but sources familiar with the decision said the decision affected people in CableLabs’s video and applications group, as well as some in its networks group.

Update: CableLabs confirmed Tuesday (January 19) that 27 employees were affected. The original headline in this story said 30-plus employees were cut as a result of the restructuring. 

Phil McKinney, the former HP exec who was named president and CEO of CableLabs, in mid-2012, discussed some of the changes in a blog post today under the headline: “CableLabs 2.0.”

“With the work done over the last three years in addressing the fundamentals, now is the time to significantly increase the funding in innovation,” he wrote. “The transformation we are announcing today involves prioritizing the investment in innovation projects focused on three to eight years as being of equal importance to our traditional R&D projects focused on one to three years. These longer range innovations will become the source for the R&D projects of the future.

While most organizations spend a small portion of their budget on longer range innovation, we’ve made the deliberate decision to be aggressive in this transformation to ensure that CableLabs can rapidly build and sustain a significant innovation pipeline for the industry.”

The shift also comes as CableLabs has extended its focus into areas such as WiFi, LTE-Unlicensed, software-defined networking/network functions virtualization, while also keeping close tabs on technology developments around 4K and virtual reality.

Update: CableLabs said Sunday that the organization has not dropped MSO-related SDN/NFV research activities following the shift in focus, disputing what an industry source told Multichannel News.  

CableLabs's shift in focus also comes comes soon after the cable industry reached a big milestone, as cable modem products from five vendors were certified by CableLabs for the new multi-gigabit DOCSIS 3.1 platform, aided by new processes that helped to accelerate that work.

McKinney wouldn’t go into all the areas that will see increased investment, but did identify a few, including virtual reality (“a hot area in the innovation space”), next-gen video technologies (including future versions of high dynamic range and display materials), and more focus on cable’s growing role in healthcare technology.

“If you want to have a meaningful impact on it [the innovation pipeline], you’ve got to align a chunk of resources against that effort, otherwise it becomes more of a hobby or a secondary activity for the organization,” McKinney said in an interview. “This move, what we call CableLabs 2.0, is that aligning of a significantly increased amount of resources focused on creating an innovation pipeline." 

CableLabs wouldn’t say how staffing levels are changing amid this shift of focus, but McKinney said there’s no change in the total budget or the total funding for the MSO-backed organization, which also operates a facility in Silicon Valley that opened in the fall of 2013. Additionally, he doesn't expect the overall staffing level at CableLabs to change as it realigns its focus.  

“Anytime you're trying to do a transformation like this, there's some people that move across and become part of those expanded focus areas,” McKinney said. “And in some cases you move people out of an organization to free up resources that can be invested in the innovation space.”

And that focus will also impact which projects are on the front burner and which ones get mothballed.

“If we don’t’ believe [projects] are going to have high impact on the industry in those [innovation] areas, we'll actually cancel those projects,” he said. “That frees up resources, budgets and headcount and we’ll allocate those budgets and headcounts to new areas." 

CableLabs took on a broader, global focus in 2013, when it combined with Cable Europe Labs. CableLabs now has 55 members in 33 countries that serve about 180 million video subs. Membership fees, paid on a quarterly basis by MSOs, represent a key source of revenue for CableLabs, which also gets revenue from its own events, interoperability testing, and as well as from a for-profit device-security unit, called NetworkFX, that was spun-out in 2012.