The little things still make a big difference

More than a decade ago at an SCTE Cable-Tec cable trade show in Orlando, I was lured, tricked, cajoled or otherwise persuaded to visit a company with a small booth on a side aisle. The enticement of the invitation was that this company had "revolutionary technology" that I would be foolish to ignore.

So I did my tech stroll over to the booth where I found… coaxial sheathing. For sure it was innovative, as these things go. It withstood heat and cold without melting or cracking and it was super-waterproof to keep the coax dry and the signals flowing through to the next pole or from the pole to the home.

But really, at a trade show full of "revolutionary technology" for compressing video and delivering VoD and rudimentary interactivity, it was a little thing.

I was reminded of that booth visit this week as the latest version of SCTE Cable-Tec Expo approaches again in Orlando. Since all of life is a circle, I am again being bombarded by companies--or their short-term hired guns--who have "revolutionary technology" they want to display and demonstrate for my discerning eyes. Whether any of it sheaths coax is irrelevant. It's all the latest and greatest ways to transport video from a pillbox headend to a pillowed head in a residential setting.

The other thing that jarred my memory was a story from--and how coincidental is this--Orlando that said incumbent cable operator Bright House Networks was feeling the competitive heat from a pair of IPTV providers, AT&T U-verse and CenturyLink Prism TV. No one in the story talked about subscribers walking away from cable and towards IPTV, but the implication was clear: IPTV had something people felt they weren't getting from cable.

Of course, my immediate inclination was to assume that IPTV's Internet prowess was drawing consumers like hacks being lured by flacks. After all, this is the age of the second screen and the multiscreen, and the IP guys have been at it longer than the cable guys. And, for the most part, that's a big reason the competition is making inroads. But there was one other thing that reminded me of that obscure booth with the "revolutionary technology" at that long-ago trade show.

"Speed is an important part to the television experience, especially when there are hundreds of channels to surf through in search of programming, "said an Orlando Sentinel story. "U-verse and Prism TV use fiber optic technology, which provides faster communication between the carriers and the customers' homes. Bright House Networks uses coaxial cables, which do not transmit information as quickly.

"The difference is most noticeable when switching channels," the story added. "Changing channels on Prism TV is lightning-fast. There's virtually no lag from one channel to the other. U-verse has a slight delay, but it's nothing compared with the temporary black screen shown between channels on Bright House Networks."

Changing channels, the most fundamental television experience, is a game-changer in a competitive landscape of hundreds of channels and dozens of screens.

Like sheathing the coaxial cable to keep it dry and warm or cool, giving people the ability to change channels quickly is a little thing. And, it seems, the little things still count. It's not likely, but I may be a bit more discerning next week in Orlando when I look for the next big thing, because it may actually be the last little thing. -Jim