Comcast Sets Switched-Video Rollout

Houston -- Comcast is conducting trials of switched digital video in two markets and expects to deploy services based on the technology in the second half of 2007, vice president of production-platform engineering Rick Rioboli said.

Rioboli, speaking on a panel at the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Conference on Emerging Technologies here Wednesday, said switched digital video will be the key mechanism to let operators deliver more HD channels.

"If a programmer comes to us and says, 'We want you to carry new HD channels' … we’re stuck in that bandwidth problem," he added. The move to switched digital video will mean "we don’t have to plan two or three years in advance which channels we’re going to be dropping to carry HD."

Switched-digital-video systems can deliver channels more efficiently than broadcasting them by sending video streams to a subscriber only when a channel is requested. The assumption is that not every channel in a switched group will be viewed simultaneously.

In an interview, Rioboli said the trials in the first half of the year are intended to make sure that the systems are technically stable and Comcast can effectively manage them.

"We're done with the vendor evaluation and system design," he added. "Now we need to get to the point where we can realistically deploy and manage it."

Rioboli declined to specify the two trial markets. Comcast is a customer of BigBand Networks, a maker of switched-digital-video gear, according to BigBand's regulatory filing last month for its initial public offering.

Cablevision Systems this week became the first major operator to announce services made available through switched digital video with the launch of iO International, a group of nine in-language packages featuring dozens of channels from around the world in Spanish, Russian, Chinese, Hindi and other languages.

Cablevision is using BigBand's equipment to offer iO International to all of its 2.3 million digital-cable subscribers.