Todd Spangler’s Journal: Day Three

Orlando, Fla. -- Another day, another couple-hundred HD channels.

The most interesting bit of news today comes not from the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers’ Cable-Tec Expo 2007 down here in central Florida, but up north from the suburbs of the Big Apple: Cablevision Systems grabbed the HD-hype crown with the claim that it will be able to deliver 500 HD channels by the end of 2007 using switched-digital-video technology.

Forget that there are maybe only 50 or so extant HD channels, including the 15 Voom HD Networks services most people have never heard of. Cablevision's press-release salvo is aimed squarely at DirecTV’s “future” of 150 HD channels. Hey, they started it.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, the SCTE show carried on:

Life After CableCARD:Charlie Kennamer, Comcast’s vice president of engineering, standards and industry affairs, said the operator already deployed CableCARD-enabled boxes in all of its markets, at least for trials in employees’ homes. “We’ve pretty much depleted our inventory of integrated boxes,” he said at a panel discussion. “If we don’t, we’ll have a bunch of bricks in inventory after July 1.”

Kennamer said it will probably be end of this year “before we’re back to ‘business as usual’”-- which, he explained wryly, means “doing things that will actually benefit customers.”

The Switched-Digital Mix:Todd Bowen, director of digital systems for Time Warner Cable’s Austin, Texas, division, provided a download on how his group deployed SDV over the past three years. One of his words to the wise: Don’t switch a pay-per-view event channel that's likely to be hugely popular.

The Magic SDV Number: Cablevision VP of technology Bob Clyne, also speaking on the SDV panel, described how the MSO selected its core group of channels to switch. Cablevision polled usage data from 4,000 set-top boxes for 24 hours per day, for four weeks, to discover which were the least-watched channels.

What Clyne and his team found: Over every 24-hour period, the same 92 channels on the network were viewed by no more than 52 people. “If there’s a magic number for us, it’s 52,” he said.

Slinging from the Network: On the show floor, Cisco Systems is demo’ing what it calls “network slinging” -- a network-based digital-video recorder delivering video-on-demand or other recorded programs to a Web-connected Mac computer and to a Nokia N800 handheld Internet device.

The network-slinging system can do session shifting, which allows someone to pause a movie on the TV and then resume watching it right where it was stopped on another device

David Yates, Cisco’s video and content networking director of marketing, noted that the question isn’t whether such features are technically possible: It’s whether the programmers and cable operators can come to an agreement on how to license these new use-cases.

“Consumers clearly want to do this,” he said, pointing out that Cablevision is defending its network DVR -- which uses Cisco’s VOD servers -- in a pending appeal to the copyright-infringement lawsuit filed by several programmers.

FromGenevawith Love: Swiss set-top-box maker Advanced Digital Broadcast officially nailed up its shingle in the States. “We’re now selling to cable in North America,” declared Mike Hawkey, ADB Americas executive VP of marketing and sales.

No customers to announce yet, but Hawkey said several MSOs are testing out ADB’s set-tops, which use Cable Television Laboratories’ OpenCable Application Platform to run program guides and other applications and CableCARD specifications to support security.

All of the company’s set-top models will support HD, according to Hawkey, who added, “We don’t see cable buyers interested in standard-definition-only moving forward.”

ADB will emphasize guide performance and interoperability (the company bought OCAP developer Vidiom Systems last year). “We’re competing for the share of set-tops the operators are not going to buy from Motorola and SA,” Hawkey said.

“OCAP” Verboten: Meanwhile, in his keynote Wednesday, National Cable & Telecommunications Association CEO Kyle McSlarrow said he’s banned the use of OCAP in the association’s corridors.

“I know we in Washington are also guilty of jargon, but this is really a case where the acronym completely hides the ball,” McSlarrow said. “We should be proud of what this platform represents.”

His preferred nomenclature: “OpenCable.”