Cisco’s Kanouff: Industry Needs Nimbleness

It’s hard not to notice, but there’s a lot going on right now in the cable industry. There’s major consolidation happening (which could also all unravel), business models are shifting, and over-the-top video is altering how video is packaged, resold and even separated from the pay TV mix.

“From my perspective, we’ve reached an inflection point for the entire industry,” engineering executive and industry veteran Yvette Kanouff said, reflecting on what’s almost been a year since she left Cablevision Systems to head Cisco Systems’ Service Provider Video Software and Solutions (SPVSS) organization.

Kanouff, now based in London and heavily involved with the Cisco unit tied to Videoscape and all things next-generation video, said much of these changes are all occurring amid the larger “cloud movement” for video and other services.

That means helping customers “move from a geographic-centric environment to a fully flexible environment that’s not just totally virtualized, but allows cloud sharing and cloud federation,” she said.

That also means helping service providers support a broader spectrum of devices — not just MSO-managed set-tops, but also a new class of unmanaged devices that include everything from PCs, tablets, smartphones and streaming players and streaming sticks.

That combination “allows operators to control how they want to run their business,” said Kanouff, who was a top executive at SeaChange International, a multiscreen software vendor involved in the pioneering days of video-on-demand.

As for her first year at Cisco, she said the biggest thing she’s accomplished is helping the division unify its product lines.

“If you look at the past, the industry expected every vendor to have a product that solves everything for everybody,” Kanouff said. “Now, I think what the industry needs is something that focuses significantly on nimbleness and innovation, taking all of those disparate products and moving them into a common product line. That’s one big thing that I’ve done in this last year.”

And cloud video is an important piece of that puzzle, as operators deliver an increasing amount of live and on-demand content over IP to connected devices. That has caused some operators to delve into “federated” cloud infrastructures that lean on private and public clouds.

There are private clouds, such as the one Comcast uses and controls for its in-home live streaming service and cloud DVR app for X1 (in partnership with companies that include Cisco and Elemental Technologies), and public ones that are run by third parties. To deal with evolving capacity demands, operators sometimes need to stitch them both together under a federated model.

That kind of architecture, Kanouff said, can help operators get a handle on sporadic capacity bursts without having to overbuild their private cloud and instead use a trusted, secure linkage to a public cloud partner such as Akamai or Amazon Web Services.

While over-the-top video is increasingly popular, enabling cord-cutters to self-aggregate their video services while also spawning a new class of nimble and competitive “virtual” multichannel video distribution providers, Kanouff believes that cable operators are still well positioned to navigate these ripples.

“I understand the frustration out there that says, ‘It’s not my bundle, it’s not what I picked,’ ” Kanouff said, noting that cord-cutters still need to pay for broadband service to get delivery. “I think that there’s still a strong place for being able to have everything bundled together for you”

But operators must continue to support a variety of options, she said, giving the nod to her former employer, Cablevision Systems, for embracing the idea by inking a deal to distribute HBO Now, HBO’s new standalone OTT service, to its broadband subscribers.

“It’s not really as much a financial discussion as it is a platforms discussion,” she said.