Cable-Tec Expo: iTV better when served from the cloud

Cable television has a great opportunity to beat back over-the-top competition by delivering its own form of interactive TV (iTV). It has an even better chance of accomplishing that if it uses the Internet "cloud" to structure and store interactive applications before loading them onto the consumer premises equipment.

By using the Internet as its applications repository, a cable system doesn't necessarily have to worry about having the latest and gratest (set-top) boxes for consumers," said Jamie Batmanglidj, senior systems architect at the Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) Media Center. "No longer are we trying to cram the Internet into the set-top box."

That doesn't mean a cable system won't cram the Internet--and all its attendant applications--somewhere into the consumer home; it means it won't be using a set-top box that's more computer than channel changer, it will be using a cloud-based aggregator to gather the applications and send them to the home, Batmanglidj said.

"Internet is good in the cloud; video is great in the set-top," he said.

And cable, he implied, is great in the consumer home ,where OTT providers are using cable's broadband pipe to their own advantage.

"The more we increase our broadband speeds the more other companies out there find ways to leverage it," the Comcast exec said. "Can we offer interactive TV? Certainly we can."

The cloud, or more accurately, the Internet, is built on "mature standards" that enable "quick development, quick turn and quick deployment" of new applications running on HTML or JavaScript, he said. By accessing that cloud, cable can take advantage of a plethora of standards-based developers working on new applications that would run over cable's "reliable Internet connection," he said.

Set-tops, even older legacy units--as long as they have two-way capabilities--could get some middleware upgrades and be ready to act as interactive programming vehicles, he predicted and applications developers, now caught in the middle of developing content for the multiples of OTT providers out there, could "start writing apps not to a set-top box but to an interface" in the cloud that would compile those applications and feed them down to the consumer's set-top box and from there to the TV.

Batmanglidj emphasized that cloud-based iTV won't replace cable's tru2way or EBIF efforts but will help the company make its large installed base of set-top boxes iTV ready and therefore competitive with whatever OTT apps come down the line.

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