NDS Cracks U.S. Market with Cablevision

Cablevision Systems Corp. has again looked outside the American cable establishment for its new interactive-TV platform, giving international conditional-access player NDS Inc. a key contract — and possibly a foothold in the U.S. market.

NDS will be supplying its Open VideoGuard conditional-access system and its StreamServer broadcast management software to Cablevision's iO: Interactive Optimum digital-TV service on Long Island, N.Y.

NDS provides conditional access to systems with more than 25 million subscriptions worldwide, including satellite providers DirecTV Inc. and British Sky Broadcasting Group plc and cable systems in Australia, Israel and Italy. But this is NDS's first U.S. cable deal.

"We are trying to make inroads in cable," NDS Americas vice president and general manager Dov Rubin said. "We believe cable is a very big and viable market and we believe as soon as it opens up — and we are hoping that it opens it up — viewers will benefit in all sorts of ways," he said.

Cablevision's Optimum service uses Sony Corp. set-top boxes and a video-on-demand system provided by SeaChange International Inc. NDS will add a tool to collect revenue — including VOD and pay-per-view movie fees and in the future, other types of e-commerce charges. Its Open VideoGuard software runs off cable system headends and within the "smart cards" inserted in cable set-top boxes that oversee video purchases.

StreamServer, meanwhile, takes program information and feeds it into the box's electronic programming guide. That allows for real-time changes made to a channel's schedule and programming information. So if there are extra innings in a baseball game, the StreamServer can adjust the programming guide to reflect the delay in later program starts.

Cablevision is rolling out the advanced interactive service, even as other U.S. MSOs have scaled back their interactive plans. The Interactive Optimum TV product includes e-mail, VOD, music, personalized sports scores and weather, an interactive programming guide and a special interest video content service.

"While others are talking about it, they are on the air," Rubin said. "And we'd like to think conditional access is the enabler."

It is also the first digital video broadcasting open system rollout for a U.S. operator. At present, Cablevision is only deploying a box made by Sony, but by using the open DVB standard there is greater opportunity to vary the box lineup, Rubin said.

"What that means is that there can also be a wide choice for set-top boxes, and ultimately what that translates to for the consumer is lower cost," he said. "It's very exciting to see that here because I think this is a watershed mark for the U.S. I think it will finally enable cable to make inroads — some people use the word digital freedom — in the ability to select your digital technology, rather than be tied to some of the specific leaders today."

To help that process along, NDS has developed a simulcrypt technology, allowing operators to encrypt the same program in two formats.

"That gives the cable MSO the benefit to pick and choose, and that the benefit of an open system," Rubin said.