Enhancing the cable network: A Q&A with Neustar VP Chris Drake

With Google TV and Apple TV and FiOS and U-Verse, everyone is laser-focused on cable television these days. And with cable losing video subscribers faster than a middle-aged man losing hair, there's good reason for cable operators to focus in that direction. Chris Drake, NeustarChris Drake, vice president of product management for carrier services at Neustar (NYSE: NSR), thinks cable's focus could and should go in another direction--and then move back to video. He points out that the Yankee Group has estimated that IP-based communications traffic will grow over 150 percent during the next five years and that carriers have to understand how all that traffic arrives their networks and what happens from there.

FC: So from a traditional telecom vendor's perspective, where do you see cable going in this new IP world?

CD: We see cable moving into wireless, moving into becoming fully fledged telecom service providers.

FC: You've expanded your focus?

CD: For years Neustar has been in the routing domain, a purveyor of registries in the sky. Now we have a much more holistic portfolio in routing than we've had before and we are driving that to the cable companies.

FC: Cable is dependent on peering agreements with other network providers. The ongoing dispute between Level 3 (Nasdaq: LVLT) and Comcast (Nasdaq: CMCSA) is, according to Comcast at least, a peering dispute. Level 3 says it's more than that ... it's a traffic management dispute. How does that sort of situation get resolved?

CD: Without specifically addressing the Comcast-Level 3 dispute, these things can get very complicated ... but for a cable company that was not a telecom provider just the whole aspect of getting their arms around interconnect management can be somewhat daunting.

FC: Again, it appears, you're talking about voice traffic. What about video? Cable, among other things, is pushing a TV Everywhere plan that would put video in the hands of subscribers outside the residential cocoon.

CD: Neustar is the Digital Locker coordinator and UltraViolet solution. UltraViolet enables people to watch their content or get their content anywhere, anytime. The cable company is both a streamer of content and a retailer of content and people can get access to UltraViolet titles in a much more open fashion. Today it's a very closed system and UltraViolet opens that up and cable companies are showing some interest.

FC: Showing some interest, but not there yet, unlike Netflix (Nasdaq: NFLX) and Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN)which are UltraViolet members. How do you help cable if they're not part of the mix?

CD: There are two themes at work here. There are the cablecos that become either telecom service providers or they wish to wean off the total dependency of the partner that gives them their phone numbers and their interconnect. All of that is fairly new for Neustar. UltraViolet is front and center in the digital media world.

FC: It seems as if you're approaching the cable industry through the back door, so to speak, starting with managing voice traffic and moving to video?

CD: Our portfolio as it stands today makes it easy to understand the quality of your voice connections. That's probably the closest we get to management of data.

FC: Well, then, what do you think cable wants beyond that?

CD: Cable wants domain expertise in what it means to be a telco. They're getting into the interconnect space and looking for tools to manage how they route traffic across the partners in a salable way that maximizes their margins. In UltraViolet, they're looking to create new revenue streams and deliver content efficiently.

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