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Filling the Cable Tech Void in Las Vegas

NAB Show, the National Association of Broadcasters’s annual conference in Las Vegas, has long been a central meeting point for TV and other video-focused companies. But the importance of the annual rendezvous in Las Vegas (set this year for April 22-27) has become amplified amid consolidation and other tectonic shifts affecting the industry.

Among them was last year’s decision by the NCTA-The Internet & Television Association to sunset INTX: The Internet & Television Expo, the trade show that used to be known as The Cable Show. The original plan was to have the 2017 edition of INTX take place at the same time as this year’s NAB Show, but the NCTA’s revised plan is to host The Near Future, a smaller, half-day, invitation-only conference in Washington, D.C., on April 27 that will feature talks and sessions centered around technology, policy and media.

Those overall changes have caused some suppliers to tweak their budgets and plans at this time of the year around the NAB Show, as they look to stay in front of programmers, distributors and other key customers in the video ecosystem.

“Our instant reaction when we learned about the demise of INTX was that we should probably think about expanding our space” at NAB, Duncan Potter, senior VP of global marketing at Arris, said.

Though Arris is broadening its presence at NAB, “it’s not a huge difference” from what Arris, a top supplier to cable operators and some telcos, had at last year’s show, he allowed.

Expecting a Similar Vibe

Like past NAB shows, Potter expects this year’s gathering to maintain its focus on areas such as video quality, compression and other next-generation transmission technologies, rather than cable-specific infrastructure, which would typically be Arris’s focus at a show like INTX.

“We’re not doubling the size of the booth or taking another hundred people, but there will be more diversity in the team that we take to NAB,” Potter said.

Part of that team will feature technologies and products from ActiveVideo, the cloud video division now jointly owned by Arris and Charter that is helping operators make the jump to IP by also supporting similar next-generation-like experiences on legacy set-tops.

Potter said Arris and ActiveVideo, for example, are working with Ericsson to get the latter’s new cloud-focused MediaFirst experience to run on new IP-based devices as well as those that don’t speak IP.

Related: NAB: Sessions of Note

Metrological, a company focused on TV apps, has been going to NAB and INTX for years. But the company now views NAB as an “emerging tech showcase event,” Greg Riker, Metrological’s senior VP of sales for the Americas, said.

“I almost think it will be like a Western Show,” he said, referencing the former cable-industry trade show that had become tech-oriented by the time it had its last hurrah in 2003 in Anaheim, Calif.

This year’s NAB will be of particular relevance to Metrological, due to its increased attention on OTT and mobile content. Riker said. Metrological will continue to visit with content companies at NAB, but expects more pay-TV providers to take part amid the demise of INTX.

Metrological, Riker said, is already modifying its budget for 2018 with the notion that NAB will “be a very relevant show for us going forward.”

Charlie Vogt, CEO of Imagine Communications, also believes that more service providers will attend NAB, but said the Las Vegas event’s growth is independent of the impact of INTX’s absence.

“I think you’re going to see more of the IP and traditional service providers start attending NAB as content becomes a bigger part of their overall strategy and thinking,” Vogt said. “For us, the show is as important to us as it ever has been.”

A big part of that, he reasoned, is due to the migration from monolithic, proprietary, baseband SDI environments to open, IP and software-defined, native cloud environments.

While the industry has already been through the move from analog to digital and standard definition to high-definition, “now you’re talking about change that you haven’t seen in decades,” Vogt said, noting that Imagine already has more than 25 IP deployments underway, including its high-profile deal with The Walt Disney Co.

Tech-Minded, Business-Focused

“In the next two to three years, customers are going to attend NAB with a different kind of mindset,” Vogt added. “It’s not just going around and looking at all the blinking lights. It’s about going around to really learn about what it is our technology can do to transform their entire business.”

At the show, Imagine will feature its IP video products, while also introducing a campaign around “micro-services” under the Zenium brand. That approach, he said, will enable partners to abandon monolithic, dedicated software layers and shift to a model that breaks them up into more manageable modules.

NAB has also grown in importance as broadcasters put more focus on direct-to-consumer opportunities and start to look at the role they can play in the Internet of Things market, Johan Craeybeckx, business line director at Eurofins Digital Testing International, said.

Eurofins, he said, will be showcasing its automated testing platform tailored for the emerging ATSC 3.0 standard. Eurofins’s platform has a cable pedigree, but is now gaining exposure to OTT and mobile platforms, and could have a role to play as broadcasters take a closer look at the new transmission standard, Craeybeckx said.

An anomaly of the group of sorts is Evolution Digital, a Colorado-based company helping small-and midsized cable operators such as WideOpenWest migrate to IP-based video platforms. Evolution Digital has been an NAB regular, mainly through its partnership with content-security firm Conax.

“NAB, for us, tends to be a meeting point for a lot of international operators,” Brent Smith, Evolution Digital’s president and chief technology officer, said, referencing his company’s ongoing work in Mexico and the Latin America region.

“IP crosses borders, because it’s really a standard that applies across the world,” he said, noting that Evolution and Conax will demonstrate how the latter’s digital rights-management products work with Evolution’s eVUE-TV IP video system.

Smith said there’s a “bit of a vacuum” in the market now that INTX is gone, but said it’s too early to say that there’s been a “consistent trend of operators shifting their interest to NAB.”