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Charter Taps Ascent to Manage VOD

Charter Communications Inc. has chosen to deploy Ascent Media Group's asset traffic and management system for video-on-demand launches in its markets with nCUBE Corp. servers.

Ascent's VTMS (VOD Traffic and Management System) tracks VOD titles from inception through distribution to server propagation. The system captures internal server-side content information and usage reporting, Ascent said.

"The system is a way for Charter to manage their VOD business in a centralized, regional or local way," said Ascent Media Group executive vice president Rich Fickle.


Fickle said Ascent's software will give Charter a single, total view of VOD activity within the system, drawing information from the catchers that receive content from satellite-transmission systems all the way through to the set-top box.

"We've created a network-based service that ties all these components together," he said.

Before, he said, "there wasn't a way for an MSO or programmer to see end to end what's happening with their content."

"The cable industry has always lacked a reliable solution that offers end-to-end management and visibility into the entire distribution lifecycle of VOD content and operations," Charter senior vice president of programming Sue Hamilton said in a statement. "As the need for video-on-demand services and content continues to grow, so has our need for a scalable and easily manageable infrastructure.

"Ascent Media recognized this challenge and created a superior, easy-to-use solution that will not only streamline content management, but also improves our overall business operations in this space. Their solution allows us to take full ownership of our VOD delivery infrastructure for the first time."

Ascent's system serves both engineering and marketing needs, Fickle said.

The system provides status and proactive alarming so an MSO can see any problems that arise during VOD transmissions. "One bad experience in a household can turn off a user for life," Fickle said.

Ascent's system also monitors content handoffs from the catcher to the server or the server to the VOD transmission path, providing greater oversight of possible problems.

TVN Entertainment Corp. supplies Charter with VOD content through its satellite-transmission platform. Ascent's software provides for an overview across Charter's existing VOD vendors.

The product will also help marketers, Fickle said, because it collects real-time usage information.

"You can pair that up with the billing system and look at the performance of content, campaigns and ads," he said.

The information is gathered in the aggregate and not at the individual home level, because of privacy concerns. But it can be grouped among transactional VOD, SVOD and free on-demand uses, Fickle said. That allows MSOs to make adjustments quickly, tweaking price points or reallocating server shelf space.

Fickle also said Charter can set up the Ascent software to monitor VOD at a local or a regional level. That's important for Charter, which has many smaller systems.

"In smaller markets, you can't put in a lot of hardware and additional staffing," Fickle said.


The software also will help Charter get a system-wide view of content, since the MSO is increasing its number of input sources.

Charter has explored local VOD, which requires either encoding on the fly or content acquisition from local TV stations, production houses or sports networks.

Fickle said Ascent did the nCUBE integration work first, but the vendor hopes to be in all of Charter's markets by the end of the year. Charter's VOD platform is split about equally between nCUBE and Concurrent Computer Corp.