(click thumbnail)NCTA President Kyle McSlarrow will give the state of the industry address on Tuesday, May 8, 9:30 a.m. in the Mandalay Bay Ballroom J.LAS VEGAS
When the National Cable and Telecommunications Association unveiled its agenda for Cable Show ‘07, May 7-9 in Las Vegas, the most obvious missing ingredient was public policy—more specifically, the traditional corps of Capitol Hill and FCC delegates did not appear on any sessions.
NCTA executives said they expect a contingent of FCC, Commerce Department and Congressional policy-makers (among others) to accept invitations, albeit possibly at the last moment. Given the recent contentious comments about cable TV from the FCC and Congress, the policy-makers’ presence—and their possible remarks—could become a “fireworks index” for the industry.
Whether or not federal officials bring their insights to the 56th annual NCTA convention, the three-day agenda includes a more-expansive-than-ever range of business and technology—reflecting the cable industry’s moves towards Internet Protocol (including IPTV), wireless and commercial services. NCTA has also extended its alliances with other cable associations to present technical, business and operations ideas and products in the conference and exhibit halls at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
Industry topliners, appearing on the “State of the Industry” and other keynote sessions, include Comcast Corp. CEO/Chairman Brian Roberts, Time Warner Inc. CEO/Chairman Richard Parsons, Walt Disney Company CEO/President Robert Iger and News Corp. COO/President Peter Chernin.
August Busch IV, president and CEO of Anheuser-Busch, will keynote a “Sponsoring the Future” session, focusing on advertising, run with the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau.
CAB has moved its annual spring conference under the NCTA convention umbrella. More than three dozen program network companies (many of them offering multiple channels) flesh out the video content sector of the exhibit halls, including many services focused on broadband, streaming and on-demand distribution.
In collaboration with CableLabs, the industry’s research consortium, Cable Show ‘07 will start with a two-day OCAP Developers Forum, “OCAP—Interactive and More.” The program will provide an in-depth look at CableLabs’ OpenCable Applications Platform, which is designed to foster unified, open standards to speed the development of interactive applications.
NCTA and CableLabs expect that program network creators, along with broadband designers, will attend the 11-sesssion forum, May 6-7, just before the main convention program begins. In addition to specialized technology descriptions, the forum will include an OCAP “roadmap” from the top technology executives of the largest cable multiple system operators: Mark Hess from Comcast Corp., Mike Hayashi from Time Warner Cable, Chris Bowick from Cox Communications and Arthur Orduna from Advance/Newhouse Communications.
For the third year in a row, the OCAP training tracks will be run by Vidiom Systems Inc., a Broomfield, Colo.-based developer of interactive television technology. Now, with the looming deployment of OCAP devices, NCTA wants to “build awareness among third-party developers about the platform, toolkit and roadmap,” said Mark Bell, NCTA vice president of industry affairs.
Among the more than 40 business and technical sessions, Cable Show ‘07 features five management sessions dealing with new technology and three more about information technology. A separate track of “cable gaming” sessions is returning to this year’s show, with presentations about distribution, publishing and leveraging IP networks for videogaming.
Although HDTV is high on NCTA’s political agenda, the topic has become mainstreamed into the convention program. Sessions focus more specifically on emerging technology issues, such as “Asset Management in a Multiplatform World,” “Transport and Networking in the Optical Age” and “The Next Leaps in Digital Rights and Conditional Access.”
CableLabs is also coordinating its annual CableNet pavilion, an integrated technology exhibition area that showcases cutting-edge technology. About 40 displays—roughly the same number as last year—will demonstrate not only new transport and display systems, but the ability to inter-network with various cable devices. Several new exhibitors are introducing customer-generated video production tools, and there are “more home alarm and security demonstrations than I can recall from prior years,” said CableLabs senior vice president Mike Schwartz.
“Our goal with CableNet is to continue to have a technology showcase where attendees [can] catch a glimpse of... future opportunities,” Schwartz said.
Several OCAP-compliant devices and the first OpenCable high-definition set-top box will debut at CableNet. Many CableNet participants are focusing on IPTV and Web-based components.
Samsung Electronics claims that its SMT-H3050 OCAP hi-def set-top box enables HD viewing while running bound and unbound applications. Samsung will also display a dual-tuner OpenCable HD DVR that uses a multistream CableCARD to simultaneously decrypt and record two streams of digital cable to a 160-GB hard disc drive.
Representing the computer industry’s growing participation in the cable industry, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. will show an OpenCable 2.0 hardware platform for development of integrated bidirectional digital cable ready TV.
Sofia Digital will demonstrate its Backstage Browser Platform for OCAP, a comprehensive XHTML microbrowser solution running on top of OCAP for deploying interactive services. NDS will show its latest interactive applications and production tools for existing cable and new OCAP set-top boxes. NDS will also unveil its next-generation user interface, geared to advanced, high-definition set-top boxes.
Among CableNet’s wireless displays is Aurora Networks’ LcWDM, a newly developed technology that maximizes the installed fiber infrastructure through single-fiber utilization.
Many exhibitors at CableNet will focus on the growing interconnection of the Web and voice services. For example, Clique Communications will demonstrate its SIP-compliant Clique Video Phone, which offers real-time video messaging and videophony through a DOCSIS connection over the Internet. Comverse will exhibit Personal TV BlogCast that enables users to broadcast live video content to any device over IPTV and IMS. Front Porch will show a direct-to-the-browser communication solution that lets cable companies target and send to any high-speed Internet subscribers any message or content without client-side software.
At its CableNet exhibit—separate from its parent company’s sprawling main booth—Motorola’s Connected Home Solutions group will focus on DOCSIS 3.0 channel bonding for IPTV, showing how the technology can be used to deliver multicast, high-definition IP video streams to an IP set-top box.
“Technology changes, the fundamentals don’t. That’s what makes it interesting,” said Dan Pike, who chaired the NCTA committee that selected the 40 technical papers that will be delivered during the show. About “150 qualified abstracts” were submitted, and Pike said it was challenging to winnow the roster down.
“The papers look a little ways ahead,” while on the show floor, there are things “that are a little more immediate,” he said.
Pike, the chief technology officer of GCI Cable in Austin, Texas, said that “convergent technologies and new technology for transport” are the focus of several presentations. More papers deal with Internet Protocol infrastructure and improved optical transmission.
His committee found that this year the topics “didn’t coalesce in the usual bins” of video-related topics. New offerings include papers about thin client services, which Pike characterized as “computer science that is now showing up in the cable industry.”
All the presentations have been compiled into “The 2007 NCTA Technical Papers” documents, which are available for $50 (book or CD-ROM format) at the show or $75 afterwards.
The Society of Cable and Telecommunications Engineers (SCTE) will also be in Las Vegas, coordinating and participating in many of the technical sessions, providing a preview of the detailed engineering agenda coming up at its annual Cable-Tech Expo next month in Orlando.
BACK TO VEGAS
NCTA expects just over 14,000 people to attend this year’s convention, about the same number as last year and also comparable to the last time the NCTA convention was held in Las Vegas in 1987, according to Barbara York, senior vice president of industry affairs for the association.
NCTA lists nearly 1,200 categories of products on display in its exhibit halls even though fewer than 350 exhibitors, including 77 first-time participants), will be on hand. Many of the vendors offer multiproduct line-ups, ranging (on the technical side) from amplifiers and ATM switching equipment to WiFi products and wireless telephony devices.
York pointed out that many of the new exhibitors are overseas suppliers seeking a role in the U.S. telecommunications sector.