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Targeting new markets for IP delivery takes patience

With local stations not spending much these days, broadcast equipment manufacturers continue to search for new markets into which to sell their technology. With the emergence of telco TV (e.g., AT&T’s U-verse and Verizon’s FiOS) as a major player in subscription TV, it’s one rapidly growing segment tech companies are targeting with a vengeance. Cable and satellite TV are close behind, in terms of new facility/headend building.

This shift in marketing strategy, which began more than two years ago, is backed up by a number of market size predictions from different analysts who are reporting that the worldwide broadcast industry (terrestrial local and network stations) is estimated to be spending between $150-175 billion per year, and slowly decreasing, while the TV service providers (TVSPs) — made up of cable, satellite and telco TV services — market is growing at a faster rate and could potentially reach as high as $200 billion per year by the end of 2012.

Miranda Technologies has established a separate monitoring and control division (launched in 2006), which began working with EchoStar’s Denver, CO, facility and continues to increase its client list. It now includes DISH Network, four of the top five cable TV providers (Cablevision, Charter, Cox and Time Warner) and Verizon.

Marco Lopez, senior vice president of infrastructure, routers and monitoring and control products at Miranda, said his company’s iControl technology is used to remotely monitor Internet Protocol (IP)-delivered signals at 13 Verizon regional headends across the country.

“One of the reasons we believe the activity right now is in TVSPs is that pay TV services outside of the U.S. are exploding right now,” Lopez said. “Here in the U.S. we’re jaded to believing that there’s no room for growth, but elsewhere [China, India and South America], things are just starting to be built out, and Miranda is taking advantage of this opportunity, and we believe other vendors are as well.”

Some of the biggest challenges to supporting these new markets — with ever larger SD/HD channel counts and related data services — are providing equipment that supports the new generation of complex video infrastructures that must accommodate (targeted) digital ad insertion for individual regions; time-sensitive video on demand; and maintaining a high quality of experience (QoE).

The other difficulty is what Lopez calls the “geo dimension” or the reality that TV service providers with a national footprint now have a growing number of disparately located facilities that have to be collectively managed, in terms of signal distribution and image quality, before they get to subscribers’ homes.

“The sheer mileage between where a signal starts and where it ends up is expansive,” Lopez said. “Yet clients want to maintain control over the entire system, and see and hear every video channel, from a central point. That’s not easy to deploy.”

The proliferation of TVSPs can be traced to the evolution of IP infrastructures that can handle large amounts of video packets being distributed simultaneously. To this end companies like Cisco Systems and Juniper Networks (with their large 1GB Ethernet switches that can handle 1000Mb/s traffic), have made all the difference in the world. The deployment of fiber-optic networks throughout the country has also helped with the streaming technology’s maturity. Thus, the use of IP infrastructures, once considered problematic, is now a given for all new deployments because it’s a cost-effective way to manage video flow.

Miranda’s IP-compatible equipment and iControl software is installed within a TVSP’s super headend (SHE) and video hub office (VHO), which regionalize and centrally control the headends, and makes this cost-effective video delivery system possible. Those products include the Kaleido IP multiviewer, which allows a network operations center (NOC) to monitor hundreds of compressed channels simultaneously. Previously, TVSPs have had to use decoder boxes for each uncompressed baseband output. The capability to do this across 64 SD or 24 HD channels, along with alerting a user to a problem with an individual channel, is now built into the Kaleido IP multiviewer.

Another new product from Miranda is the Axino, a 1RU product that addresses loudness issues. Due to the passing of the CALM Act, multichannel operators are more aware of the issues and are taking steps to fix the problem when it occurs. Miranda’s loudness control box monitors, logs and reports any unwanted increases in volume, but also allows them to correct the levels immediately when required. The unit can process and automatically correct hundreds of IP channels simultaneously in real time.

Finally, the new EdgeVision device from Miranda allows an operator to monitor individual channels at the edge of the network. It allows this by connecting directly to the same STBs used by consumers at home. This gives an exact replica of the quality of audio and video signals, as well as other key metadata like closed-captioning and other characteristics after it hits the set-top box in consumers’ homes. Test STBs are set up within regional headends or hubs at the edge of an operator’s coverage area and monitored by the central NOC. Streamed video from the Edgevision box once again allows operators or engineers to see and hear the same signals that arrive in consumers’ homes. In short, it can be seen as a professional Slingbox with full monitoring and probing of signals.

At the end of the day, Lopez said the company has been successful helping TVSPs stay competitive and reduce churn in an era where consumers are very aware of competitive services and increasingly have no qualms about changing TV suppliers. For TVSPs, it’s all about “mean time to repair.” The smaller that time frame is, the more successful a TVSP business is.

“We’ve found that the TVSP market is very open to exploring new ways of delivering and monitoring content and allowing us to help with the challenges they face. However, the [selling] process is slow,” Lopez said. “You really have to build a relationship with them, develop a pilot program and then go through their evaluation of how this new monitoring approach will help their overall operation and, more importantly, improve the quality of the service they provide to consumers. There’s no quick buck here.”