TV Guide Network Takes Video to the Edge

As part of a wide-scale upgrade, TV Guide Network plans to deploy several thousand digital video-processing devices that will let it enhance programming for individual operators by providing new features for inserting localized content and transcoding video.

The new edge video-processing servers are being designed by San Diego-based consulting firm Solekai Systems, which expects to deliver blueprints for the devices in the first quarter of 2008. TV Guide Network will deploy the servers in headends of cable operators and other distributors.

“This provides a way for TV Guide Network to propagate content in an operator-specific way,” Solekai vice president of sales Larry Luke said. “Everybody talks about the large [multisystem operators], but there are thousands of smaller operators across the U.S. and they’re all getting feeds.”

For example, with the Solekai system, TV Guide Network could promote movies that are running on specific channels carried by the local cable system. “Even if you’re an operator with 2,000 subs, you still want to have content that’s customized for you,” Luke said.

TV Guide Network, which combines original programming with the familiar scrolling program listings on the bottom third of the screen, is distributed to more than 84 million homes. According to Nielsen Media Research, TV Guide Network had an average 0.2 household rating in November, down from 0.3 in the same period last year.

Los Angeles-based TV Guide Network, a subsidiary of Gemstar-TV Guide International, would not disclose how many of the Solekai-developed devices it expects to deploy.

Separately, Macrovision, a digital-rights management technologies vendor, announced Friday a $2.8 billion bid to acquire Gemstar-TV Guide. 

Jack Carey, senior vice president of operations for TV Guide Network, said Solekai “gave us a huge head start” on the project, adding that the consulting company has “best-of-class experience” with digital video systems.

The system Solekai designed for TV Guide Network is based on an existing content-delivery system that the firm developed for another client (which Luke declined to name). Solekai provides services to broadcasters, consumer-electronics makers and digital-video technology vendors.

The project is an upgrade to an older application, called the Hollywood field server, which TV Guide Network currently uses to schedule, distribute and customize content in various markets.

Specific terms of the deal were not disclosed. Luke noted that Solekai is performing work under a fixed-price contract and that TV Guide Network will own the intellectual property rights for the edge video-processing devices. Solekai also will provide limited deployment and testing services as part of the initial rollout.

Solekai is providing a complete system design, including centralized management software. The individual units will be rack-mountable servers based on Intel-architecture microprocessors. TV Guide Network expects to contract with a separate electronics manufacturer to produce the hardware based on the Solekai design specs.

The edge video-processors will provide a range of capabilities, including transcoding between formats (i.e. converting MPEG-2 to MPEG-4 video), resizing the video to three-quarters of the screen, and overlaying graphics.

Off-the-shelf video-processing systems like those from Motorola, which acquired Terayon Communication Systems earlier this year, and RGB Networks are able to perform similar functions. But according to Carey, there weren’t any off-the-shelf solutions that met TV Guide Network’s requirements.

Luke said the fact the servers use standard PC-based processors will allow TV Guide Network to upgrade them with new software down the road.

“There’s no such thing as making something 100% future proof, but if you have enough headroom you stand a good chance of adding new functionality in the future,” he said.