Q&A: TelVue takes hypercasting to its extreme

TelVue, a small company in a strip mall-like business park in suburban Mount Laurel, N.J., may have hit upon the future of television--cable and otherwise--with technology that encourages hyperlocal programming that leverages the existing relationship between a community and its cable provider with the advent of new digital technology.

Telvue public access serversJesse Lerman, President and CEO of TelVue and Paul Andrews, Senior Vice President of sales and marketing, sat down recently with FierceCable to talk about TelVue and its impact on the cable industry.

FierceCable: Tell us a bit about TelVue and what it's all about.

Jesse Lerman: We focus on a few core markets including cable and telco, professional broadcast, as well as PEG (public, educational, government) stations. To date, we're powering community channels for seven of the top 10 MSOs as well as the nation's largest telco TV provider, Verizon. We're also powering over 1,000 PEG channels across the country delivering local channels to over 850,000 college students on campuses across the country and delivering local channels to over 15 million consumers.

We not only provide the broadcast delivery, but in some cases we're helping with the production and the look and feel for stations that don't have that capability.

Paul Andrews: The towns could be anything from a little town in upstate New York where they might have 1500 cable households to the city of Atlanta or the city of Cleveland who have millions of people who would be watching the channel.

FierceCable: What benefits has TelVue brought to its new customers?

Lerman: The core products and many of our customers originally came on board with us for their cable channels. Most of the customers were delivering traditional broadcast channel over cable.

Andrews: We took a lot of stations to hard drive-based storage of digital content and the playout. What was unique were all of the things we could do in one box.

Lerman: Most of the products were built with Web interfaces to make it very easy to manage from any PC or MAC that connected on the network or from home. Particularly for a lot of these smaller broadcasters that was very important, that ease of access from anywhere where you may only have a few people who are managing a 24x7 broadcast channel. It's a hybrid of traditional media and new Web-centric media.

FierceCable: So services are a blend of television and Web?

Andrews: The predominant way that people watch television is on television. It is certainly a challenge for cable companies now that on the Internet there are a billion titles at any one time. The quality is not there other than the Hulus and some of the websites which are run by professional media. The good quality stuff is still on television and not on the Internet, but the quality is going to improve on the Internet.

How does cable television add more channels in an economic way that begin to look more like Internet? How do they make it economically viable? How do you produce all of that content? There's a space in here where cable television has to leverage the energy of what's being done on the Internet but turn it into a lean-back experience.

FierceCable: What about local access channels?

Telvue Hypercaster IPTV digital broadcasterAndrew: The transition from analog to digital in the cable world is really very recent as far as being able to eliminate the analog tier. The public access stations had an analog channel which made the cable guys look at this as very inefficient use of space. Now, with everyone getting a limited-function digital set-top box, everyone is on parity. You can push all of the public access channels and the local origination channels into the digital tier and now they're able to do a tremendous number of channels at one time.

Lerman: Who's going to take responsibility for actually acquiring and creating the content and there's management of the channel itself? We're seeing a mix.

FierceCable: Is hyperlocal a competitive point?

Lerman: It is one of the big pieces in the competitive pile; also versus satellite broadcast which has a much harder time doing hyperlocal. That's where it can be a very big competitive advantage for a cable or telco operator versus satellite.

Andrew: Hyperlocal is a differentiator for cable companies and telcos to be able to put channels on air. The question becomes if you can do it inexpensively. Is there a way for cable to leverage the local energy and local producers so that this compelling hyperlocal community--generating content of good quality can be cost-effectively put on a channel? You can't have a lot of people involved. You can't have a town shooting videos in five different formats and mailing all those things to somebody in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. and that person has to dub them into another format and then get them put in tape decks. We've already worked with Comcast where they've used the HyperCaster product to eliminate accepting all this media on different formats.

Lerman: By moving to a more digital-centric system, a file based workflow, we helped (Comcast) regionalize those ingest points so they would have one regional ingest and that would cover a number of their leased accessed channels.

FierceCable: Where does your equipment sit?

Lerman: In most of the PEG deployments it sits in the PEG facilities and they'll have some kind of fiber drop into the headend. In some cases it is in the headend. That really depends on the arrangement. Sometimes it's in the headend and the municipality or educational group that's running it is running it remotely. Sometimes it's in the headend and the cable company itself is actually managing it. The cable companies want to get out of doing the management themselves and that's where our solutions play nicely. They are really designed to be so simple that you don't need a degree in broadcast technology, don't have to be a broadcast engineer to use this gear. If you can go online and order a plane ticket on an Internet website, you can run a 24x7 channel on our technology. Because it's all Web-based and Web-centric, it's very easy.

Telvue Video on DemandIt does give the cable companies and the telcos an option. We're comfortable if the equipment is in the PEG facility and they have a drop to the headend. But also, it's quite compelling to have that deployed at the cable headend, but push all the management. The cable company doesn't have to touch it; the end user can upload files over the Internet, access the interface, drag and drop schedules, go onto the interface and enter community bulletin board messages.

Our solution makes it easy to assign accounts to anybody in the community who can be trusted or moderated. You can assign the police or fire chief an account as a trusted user ... to put out an Amber alert.

Andrew: There is a 20-year-old architecture for delivering analog video to the headend, and we're replacing the VHS tape decks with a state-of-the-art Linux-based video server that has four terabytes of storage, four output channels, content management, content verification, integrated transcoding, a scheduling system that has a Web-based user interface. The operator of the public access station is at home scheduling this; producers are using the Internet to deliver new content directly into our server and this stuff is being programmed, and then we're using the cable company's old analog fiber to deliver all of that into a cable headend. That is something that we think might change.

We think there's an opportunity to use TelVue equipment to put a HyperCaster right in the cable headend and give towns access to the HyperCaster and avoid the fiber, and allow individual channels to be shared by different towns. That follows the Internet hosting model. The cable companies have a lot better control over that device, the quality of the content. The other nice part about the HyperCaster is that rather than a device which ingests content and outputs an analog signal that then needs to be re-encoded, the HyperCaster can output an MPEG-2 transport stream or h.264 transport stream and go right into the broadcast fabric of the cable headend.

The idea is being able to give public access channels the base of all broadcasting, the entry level.

We are at the very beginning of public access television with the video servers. We started in 2003 and were part of the first wave of companies that were offering digital server-based playout for public access stations.

Although we're a linear company, we generate linear content for cable consumption, we do it in a standard so we know that content can easily dump into video-on-demand. We don't think the whole world goes to VoD; we don't think the whole world is linear. We think cable companies have to have an easy way to go back and forth between linear and VoD.

FierceCable: What costs are involved?

Andrew: Entry level for a town that has the fiber starts at $6,000 list. That would be everything that you need to originate a 24x7 television channel including scheduling, integrated graphics. In the baseband output from composite standard def signal to high def, the high def box would be about $14,000 per single channel high definition output.

Lerman: If you populate a 20-channel server you're getting close to $1500 per channel for origination.

Andrew: We don't have technical challenges. It is not a technical challenge of how to do this; we're doing it now. The challenge is letting people know that this is possible and how to get it into their systems quickly.

Related articles:
TelVue technology to help cable operators with 'hyperlocal programming'
Online, streaming video gives rise to a new world of 'local' news coverage

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