SCTE Tackles Transition Anxiety

The DTV transition is a “high anxiety topic” that keeps cable engineers “up at night,” according to John Clark, president of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.
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PHILADELPHIA
Broadcasters aren’t the only ones concerned about next year’s analog shutoff.

The DTV transition is a “high anxiety topic” that keeps cable engineers “up at night,” according to John Clark, president of the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers.

The analog TV shutoff could be the real nightmare that the Y2K technology scare was not, the usually taciturn Clark said. His concerns reflect the rest of the cable industry’s concerns and is a major reason why the DTV transition will be a featured topic at the SCTE’s annual Cable-Tec Expo June 24-27 at the Philadelphia Convention Center.

Clark expects the DTV session to be “jammed to the rafters” as cable engineers try to prepare themselves for the transition. The topic will also come up during the annual Chief Technology Officer panel, which includes a broadcast network CTO—the first time SCTE has had a top broadcasting technologist on a panel.

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LAST STAND

“The digital transition is one of those issues … that requires cooperation,” Clark said.

The CTO Panel features Tony Werner of Comcast, Chris Bowick of Cox Cable, Bob Zitter of HBO, Dr. Roger Blakeway of SCTE-United Kingdom and John McCoskey of PBS. Blakeway, president of SCTE’s U.K. operations, is expected to focus on the ongoing DTV transition in his country.

The transition permeates SCTE’s 25th annual gathering, the engineering group’s last standalone event before the cable industry consolidates its trade shows next year (CTAM Summit, SCTE Cable-Tec Expo, the Cable Center Hall of Fame Dinner and a CableLabs seminar will make up a new “Cable Connection-Fall” lineup in Denver, in October 2009).

The anniversary agenda, called “Engineering History in the Making” to salute its Philadelphia venue, will include several events hosted by Comcast, headquartered here. The growing role of data and voice services—including the newly emphasized business services sector—are also high on SCTE’s program roster.

“Business services continue to be a hot area of what we can do,” said Marv Nelson, SCTE’s vice president for special development. Noting that the three largest MSOs are rapidly expanding enterprise data and voice services in their portfolios, Nelson points to the increased lineup of Cable-Tec Expo sessions on the topic.

Similarly, digital advertising is in the spotlight this year because, as Nelson explains it, digital ad insertion is becoming more widely used and local targeting is being deployed.

“Operators are not just selling the ads, but targeting the ads,” he said. “Since this is relatively new, we want to get the engineering community up to speed, especially since we have to work on subsystems including OSS [Operation Systems Support].”

GOING BOTH WAYS

Another session, “IPTV Fact vs. Fiction,” is intended to allay concerns about the competitive issues being raised as telephone companies promote their video services using Internet Protocol TV.

“Most of what’s happening is marketing hype,” Nelson said. The cable industry can provide through MPEG transport most of the services available via IPTV, he adds. The increased focus on IPTV means that Tec-Expo is playing down other technologies, such as switched digital video.

“We’re getting a handle on it, so now we’re starting to look at how we can do this better,” Nelson said. “Are there economies out of it?”

ENGINEERING ALL THE TIME

SCTE’s conference is also redirecting its focus on “tru2way,” the interactive TV platform formerly known as OCAP (Open Cable Application Platform).

“Last year it was the big topic,” Nelson said. “But now that it’s rolling out, we’ll focus on examples of what operators are finding from their initial deployment. We’ll look at [what engineers need to know about] whether their networks are ready for tru2way.”

SCTE’s leaders frequently revert to their mantra that the organization’s goal, and the focus of its conference, is “All Engineering, All the Time.” Reflecting the changes in the industry—especially the embrace of voice, data and business services—this year’s conference has been segmented into two tracks.

The Engineering sessions focus on design, development, and integration of new technologies and applications for the network; it is intended to help engineers prepare for future services, Nelson says.

The Operations and Fulfillment track concentrates on day-to-day technical management; its sessions deal with the deployment of new technologies and applications, including home, headend, back office and distribution network.

WORDS FROM THE TOP

SCTE expects about 10,000 attendees for this year’s show, about the same number who came to Cable-Tec Expo for the past few years.

About 400 booths—15 percent of which feature first-time exhibitors—will display software distribution and solutions products, including such services as a GPS workforce tracking tool that can help cable operators manage field personnel.

Cable-Tec Expo’s annual CEO Panel this year embraces a range of cable roles and functions, with Comcast Chief Operating Officer Steven Burke; Neil Smit, president and CEO of Charter Communications and former president of America Online’s Internet access service; Showtime Chairman and CEO Matt Blank; and Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski.

Several independent organizations are running focused training sessions on June 24, a day prior to the convention’s opening session. The programs, which require separate registration, include the SCTE Conference on Broadband Learning and Development, an intensive all-day event focused on mobile learning (“mLearning”).

Other Tutorial Tuesday programs include an all-day “Interactive TV Technology and Targeted Advertising” session run by Paul Kagan of PK Worldwide. Ron Hranac from Cisco Systems will offer a crash course in “BER and MER Fundamentals,” focusing on the increasingly important broadband issues of “bit rate error” and “modulation error ratio.”

There will also be tutorials on “IP for Video Heads” and “PacketCable 2.0 vs. IMS: Differentiation and Co-Existence in a Convergent World.”