Finally the European cable market has a sense of direction about it as Julian Clover reports from the Cable Congress in Brussels.
Just a few years back, when the Cable Conference was held in Amsterdam, the slogan of the event was ‘That’s Entertainment’. This year the strapline, ‘Beyond Speed’, was there to remind us of the superfast properties of cable broadband, as powered by DOCSIS 3. There was no opportunity to forget the abilities of cable over ADSL, every senior executive given a platform would tell us so within 60 seconds of being given the opportunity to speak. As BBC World News presenter David Eades wryly observed, a telco event would no doubt declare that it also had the best available technology.
There is still some debate as to whether or not operators should extend their influence into mobile telephony and mobile broadband. But if you are as successful as the host operator Telenet, nothing is impossible, and to prove it LTE is the latest technology to sit within the portfolio.
Having decided it is in the pipe business, the next stage is what to do with them, and how to treat over-the-top services that threaten to use cable broadband to undermine another side to the triple play triangle, the TV. When YouTube’s Patrick Walker was asked to justify the free ride he was being given on cable, he responded that the Google-owned company had invested considerable sums in building his platform, though escaped to mention that cable hadn’t actually seen any of it.
Interestingly, Walker alluded to discussions with Canvas to put YouTube onto the hybrid-broadcast platform. He is unhappy with the format being offered and seems to prefer a widget-type environment rather than being closeted into the look and feel being put forward by the BBC and its partners.
The re-emergence of TiVo as a cable middleware provider has given Virgin Media something to shout about. Virgin is arguably trying to out canvas Canvas, giving its customers an experience that brings in the best of the web, through what may be a walled garden (though sounding increasingly more like a walled prairie), and putting its own content at the centre of it all. Kabel Deutschland’s four-tuner PVR will also have the ability to pull in a limited amount of web-based content and while he may not be a fan of TiVo, Liberty Global’s Mike Fries is also singing from the same hymn sheet. Personally I cannot recall a time when European cable was able to position itself as a technology leader.
This is the non-linear world as described by Modern Times Group CEO Hans-Holger Albrecht. Subscription VOD is a more profitable option than the churn-busting catch-up TV offers.
Suddenly cable has a direction, in Europe at least it has largely decided it cannot be in the content business, but it does have the ability to shape that brought to it by the content providers.