SeaChange Opens Cable IPTV Path, Expands Telco Offering

    Seachange Cable
    SeaChange Opens Cable IPTV Path, Expands Telco Offering

    SeaChange International has stepped up its support for next-generation TV solutions on legacy infrastructure, including means by which cable operators could leverage their existing network and set-top environments to deliver Web content to the TV.

    Along with rolling out a new IPTV platform for North American telcos, SeaChange has come up with a way to enable cable operators to bring IP-based fare such as user-generated content and Web video to the TV over existing set-top boxes without requiring the addition of new devices. While, for telcos delivering regular TV programming in IP mode, the primary issues respecting connectivity of Web content to the TV have to do with rights and reformatting for TV display, cable operators have a transport issue as well, because existing digital set-tops are not designed to handle content delivered in native IP mode.

    According to Brian Kahn, director of engineering for content personalization at SeaChange, the new cable IP-to-TV initiative entails development of a SeaChange-provided service that would supply the mechanisms through which transfer of Web content to digital cable requirements could be accommodated. He says a key attraction is that the technology empowers operators to let subscribers manage and share consumer-generated content over set-tops and other devices.

    “Our service will enable users to go out to the Internet and find whatever they want whether it’s their photos or a TV show,” Kahn says. “The subscriber indicates they want that content, and it is pushed to the TV.”

    Not just any content would be available over this system, Kahn stresses. Instead, availability of commercial content and participation of operators would be negotiated by all parties, allowing the cable operator to provide users an option to request TV delivery and allowing content providers an opportunity to leverage relationships with operators to make their content available on the TV.

    “Ultimately our service is the rendezvous point between the content provider and operators,” Kahn says. “Someone clicks on a button at the Web site, and we determine where the content needs to go – which operator, which headend and which set-top box.”

    Cable operators in the U.S. have been resistant to the idea of bringing Web content to the TV, although recent moves by Comcast have begun to break the ice. New research by iSuppli suggests a large majority of consumers want their televisions to link to the Internet, according to Steve Rago, principal analyst at iSuppli.

    “The awareness and demand for media home networking is growing rapidly among consumers,” Rago says. “According to iSuppli’s first-quarter 2007 consumer-demand survey, 61 percent of respondents ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they wanted the ability to network the Internet to their televisions. Male respondents were even more favorable, with a 71 percent ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ response.”

    So far the reaction to SeaChange’s plans among cable operators has been mixed, Kahn says. But, if consumers demand and some service providers offer Web-to-TV service, operators will likely respond, he suggests.

    “I think the threat is real, and they’re going to see it,” he says. “Right now cable operators have a lot of things on their plates, but some see that they have to win back consumers who are giving up the TV in the living room for the experience of watching content on the PC.”

    A big advantage for SeaChange in helping operators put together a service like this is the company “talks to almost all the set-tops out there,” he adds. “We know how to get to the set-top from the headend. Other companies like TiVo don’t know how to do it.”

    But SeaChange has many facets of the service to work through as it continues to talk to operators and content providers prior to an anticipated launch this fall. “We’re still brainstorming this, talking to people world wide, in Europe and elsewhere,” Kahn says.

    A key question concerns whether transcoding and formatting of Web content for TV display would occur at the content origination point, in a central location such as SeaChange might support or at the local cable facilities. “There’s an issue of bandwidth associated with using a central location to distribute the content in a VOD-compliant stream to operators,” Kahn notes. “It may turn out to be a blend where with popular content we do the transcoding once but the long-tail content is processed by the individual operators.”

    As for rights issues, this is another reason the enterprise would require cooperation from content owners. “This would be a push application where we’d use DRM (digital rights management) specifically allowing exposure of the content on the TV,” Kahn says.

    An important incentive to participation by all concerned would be the power of addressable advertising, which becomes doable since the service knows who has ordered a specific piece of content. Much as equipment from SeaChange and other vendors is supporting dynamic ad insertion in VOD streams, that gear could be used to insert ads on the fly into the Web-to-TV streams.

    “We’ve been talking with major studio houses and broadcasters about this,” Kahn says. “This is something you can’t do with Heros on the Web, but you can do it as part of the process of bringing that content to the TV.”

    As for the telco side of its customer base, SeaChange has leveraged new rights to recently acquired technology to bring to the North American market an open IPTV solution similar to one it introduced in Europe last year. The company’s TV Platform product suite employs a modular architecture based on Web standards to enable seamless interaction between users, applications and IP-connected devices, says Venkat Krishnan, director of IPTV solutions at SeaChange.

    “The power of IPTV is in its personalization and portability of services,” Krishman asserts. “To that end, TV Platform gives operators the crucial ability to extend a consistent user experience across all devices while managing a single identity.”

    A key to enabling rapid deployment in existing networking environments is the extensive amount of integration SeaChange has already undertaken with other suppliers, Krishman notes. These include strategic partnerships that enable policy server integration with Camiant and Juniper Networks; DRM/CAS (conditional access system) partnerships with Verimatrix and Widevine; set-top box compatibility with Amino, Coship, Motorola, Scientific-Atlanta, Hansun and Quanta; IMS/SIP (IP Multimedia Subsystem/Session Initiation Protocol) application development with Integra5; browser compatibility with Microsoft IE, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, ANT Galio and iPanel; and DVD-based gaming content with Snap TV.

    TV Platform uses a hybrid client, dubbed Multiverse, that lets operators exploit customization inherent in browser-based clients as well as enhanced performance and flexibility for third-party developers through native support within the platform. “TV Platform’s value proposition lies in its ability to provide operators with the greatest return on a minimal investment,” Krishman says.


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